Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

What Obama Can Learn About Leadership From the Pope

Image via Marcovarro/Shutterstock.com

A couple of days ago, in the wake of the zigs and zags of the U.S. response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, I started thinking about writing a post on the points along the spectrum of clarity in leadership.

Anchoring one end of the spectrum is the last U.S. President, George W. Bush. One of the seminal moments in his presidency was when he said at a press conference, ”I’m the decider and I decide what’s best.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that. The problem comes when the decisions don’t turn out very well.

Anchoring the other end of my spectrum is President Obama who, over a year ago, declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad government in Syria’s civil war would be a red line that demanded clear action from the United States. For a week after just such an attack, it looked like cruise missiles would be launched. Then, late in the game, the President decided to seek Congressional approval for the use of force. As it became clear that the President would lose such a vote, Vladimir Putin stepped in with the idea of negotiating the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons. All of that within the span of a week or so. Not exactly clear leadership.

So, I had my anchor points but was mulling over how to illustrate the middle of the leadership clarity spectrum. And then the Pope bailed me out.

As was widely reported late this week, Pope Francis recently gave a long interview in which he made clear that he has a strong vision for his church as “the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.” He spoke at length about his belief that the love of God for all people is greater than the legalism of his institution. In the first six months of his papacy, Francis has backed up his words with action by washing the feet of convicted criminals, making personal phone calls to the afflicted, offering to baptize the baby of an unwed mother to be, living in a small apartment rather than the papal palace and carrying his own luggage.

One thing the Pope is clear about is that no one can be clearly certain. In the interview, he said, “If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good… If one has the answers to all the questions–that is the proof that God is not with him.”

Leadership isn’t about having all the answers or always being sure you’re right. It is, I think, about having some strong principles and backing them up with action. It seems to me that in that sense Pope Francis hits the right points on the spectrum of leadership clarity.

What’s your take? What does it take to hit the sweet spot on the spectrum of leadership clarity? If I look at the example of Francis, three characteristics on my list are humility, conviction and authenticity. What’s on your list?

Image via Marcovarro/Shutterstock.com

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.