Pope Francis and President Trump have disrupted (and continue to disrupt) their respective institutions. Both have inspired devoted followers and sparked outrage. It’s worth comparing and contrasting these two leaders for those of us who aspire to disrupt the status quo and bring about change.
Though Pope Francis’s election in 2013 and his new approach to the papacy brought him many fans and the Church lots of attention, it’s important to note that he has riled up many Catholics. “Not my Pope,” they will claim. These pockets of dissent occasionally emerge into the open such as the latest Knights of Malta controversy. Orthodox Catholics are now used to the claim that the infallibility of the pope only applies to faith and morals.
Similarly, President Trump has upended Washington conventions through his unique, unpredictable approach. He has devoted fans and others who have joined his coalition in order to accomplish their goals such as pro-life causes, limiting regulation, and improving job prospects. Many Americans who allowed the growth of presidential power through executive orders have suddenly become less supportive of a powerful executive branch.
Let’s take a look at an article by Learning.Ly entitled “5 Habits of Disruptive Leadership.” Below are four of the habits of disruptive leaders:
- They are on a relentless pursuit of the truth.
Both leaders seem unsatisfied with the status quo. Pope Francis seems more willing to adopt a pastoral approach and to upend the trappings of the papacy. He has not, however, altered any fundamental Church teachings. President Trump, however, seems willing to “go nuclear,” as he himself said and he has certainly challenged long-standing beliefs of his adopted political party. Both, however, disrupt in a sincere desire to improve the lives of their followers (and in the Pope’s case – all of humanity).
- They’re decisive.
On this count, both leaders seem to be equally decisive. With Pope Francis, however, we’ve had the benefit of four years. The pace of change has slowed a bit and we have a better sense of his priorities (cleaning up the administrative mess at the Vatican, instilling a pastoral approach to the Church). President Trump’s approach seems more frenetic and frankly, following the pace of action is a bit tiring. It is clear that President Trump will act as he chooses and not walk back on promises made.
- They are not threatened by uncertainty.
Both leaders seem to thrive on uncertainty. Pope Francis has brought a little more gray to the black & white world of the Vatican and he seems comfortable with that. President Trump’s foreign policy has been called the “chaos” policy because he keeps behaving unpredictably. Therefore, he is keeping other countries off balance.
- They will break the rules in order to make new ones.
Pope Francis has declined his palatial apartment, has fired plenty of Vatican insiders, and has appointed church leaders in his mold. “Unprecedented” is a word often used to describe his actions. Likewise, President Trump has continued to break the rule: not releasing his taxes, not divesting himself from his companies, appointing his son-in-law to a White House position, appointing cabinet secretaries who were previously opposed to the departments, lack formal experience in the government, etc. The list could go on and on.
Ultimately, the question to ask about a disruptive leader is about the long-term impact. Pope Francis was elected at an advanced age and in poor health. He was seen as a transition candidate who could clean up the Vatican bureaucracy (after all, he finished as runner-up in the last papal election). People assumed him to be a short-term solution but my guess is that his Vatican reforms will have lasting impact. President Trump dismisses those people who fail to understand the need for his disruption. After all, his self-assurance and confidence are part of his popularity. So whether his reforms will have long-lasting impacts remains to be seen.
At the very least, this comparison should allow us to observe their leadership impact in a new way. As we observe the disruptions in our institutions caused by these two leaders, we can draw lessons for our own leadership.