As Jorge Mario Bergoglio assumes his position as the 266th pontiff to occupy St. Peter’s chair in the Vatican, he can be certain of at least a few things: first, no CEO in the world will receive more scrutiny; second, no CEO will have more key stakeholders to answer to; third, no CEO will face a greater range of challenges than Pope Benedict XVI’s successor.
Four qualities in particular will head the list of skills he’ll need to succeed. First, a strategic vision. It’s clear from the early actions he has taken that Francis will not be a caretaker whose mission is to support the status quo. His strategic vision for where he wants to take the Church and its 1.2 billion members globally will be essential. Second, he won’t be able to do this alone. It will require strong team-building skills. Francis will have to bring in people of high intellect, strong moral quality and well developed management skills.
Third, he’ll need considerable financial skills, the sort he developed in running a diocese and an archdiocese in Argentina. Vatican insiders are never confronted with the sorts of financial challenges that a bishop or archbishop is and, as a result, never develop the income statement and balance sheet skills they’ll require to lead the Church in the 21st Century.
Finally, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church will need charismatic empathy. That is, he’ll need not only to be able to understand on a personal level how people live and the challenges of their daily lives, but he must be able to convince them that he can direct a pathway to a better life through faith and spirituality. Thus far, he’s off to a good start. He refused a limousine following his election and rode the bus back to his hotel, gathered his own luggage and stood in line to pay his bill. More recently, following a tour of the palatial papal apartments in Vatican City, Francis elected to take a room in a guest house used by visitors to the Vatican. That humility and comfort with a simpler life will serve him well in the days ahead.
The Roman Catholic Church is facing a reputational crisis at the moment not seen since the days of The Inquisition. It’s up to Francis to clean up the hierarchy of the Vatican, the church’s finances, and the relationship of the church to the poor, the vulnerable, the very young, and to women who expect a greater, more substantial role in church affairs. If divine guidance will help, it appears he’s asked for it at just the right moment.
James S. O’Rourke, IV is a Professor of Management at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.