Type the words "Pope Francis" and "leadership" into your favorite search engine and it's pretty remarkable how much you'll find. Essays analyzing his leadership style and rundowns of his inspirational quotes. Articles comparing Donald Trump's and Pope Francis's approach to power. List after list after list after list of the leadership lessons we can learn from the popular pontiff.
But what's really worth reading to help understand how this magnetic leader leads? The man has taken on climate change, asked "who am I to judge?" about gay priests and eased the process for annulling marriages, and yet is still a defender of many traditional Church beliefs and policies. He has rightly been called a riddle—an enormously influential, even revolutionary, figure in the Catholic Church whose role as a global leader is unmatched in the world today.
On the eve of his historic visit to the United States—when there will no doubt be far more to read about the pope than any person could ever consume—we share a list of a few of the most insightful essays, books and articles we've read about Pope Francis and leadership.
1) Among biographies of Pope Francis, two are cited particularly frequently—the "indispensable" Pope Francis: Untying the Knots by Paul Vallely (updated and renamed in a recent second version called Pope Francis: The Struggle for the Soul of Capitalism) and the well reviewed biography by British journalist Austen Ivereigh, The Great Reformer. While they dive deep into Catholic philosophy and Argentinian history, understanding the man and the context in which he grew up are essential for understanding his leadership style.
Ivereigh's book, published last month, has been called "the best English-language biography of the pope to date," a book that "succeeds almost entirely" in its effort to inform those "who misunderstand his 'radicalism.' " Vallely's initial biography, meanwhile, was among the first to come out about Francis in late 2013; both it and the updated version have been widely praised.
2) Longtime Catholic journalist John L. Allen Jr. has written much about Pope Francis, with insightful coverage and columns for the Boston Globe, the Web site Crux and CNN, following 16 years as a correspondent for National Catholic Reporter. He's been called the "doyen of English-speaking Vatican commentators," and his coverage is worth following over the course of this week's Pope-apalooza. One of his books on the current pope, The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church has also been praised.
3) Pope Francis has been the subject of countless profiles and long-form think pieces analyzing the effect his papacy has had on the Catholic Church, exploring the man behind the phenomenon, and explaining what his visit to the United States means. Many of them, from the profile written when he was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year to The Washington Post's recent curtain raiser on the pope's visit, are thoroughly reported and interesting reads.
One of the best I've read yet, however, is James Carroll's profile in The New Yorker of Pope Francis, near the end of his first year. A former priest himself and an award-winning author on religion, Carroll offers insightful explanations for what sets this pope's leadership apart. He calls Francis's merciful view of leading like running "a field hospital after a battle" and describes the evolution at the top as "from rule by non-negotiable imperatives to leadership by invitation and welcome," contextualizing this pope's approach in one of the best early recaps of his leadership.
4) While many of the more prominent books about Pope Francis have been penned by longtime Catholic or religion writers, another that focuses on his leadership style comes from a different source. In Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads, former Jesuit seminarian and JPMorgan managing director Chris Lowney combines his business acumen and Catholic know-how for an unusual perspective. Though the book is intended to draw lessons from Francis for a broader audience interested in leadership, it surprised reviewers with its engaging, informed approach. "Here was someone who had not merely dipped his toes in the Ignatian tradition," wrote one reviewer of Lowney on the religion Web site Patheos, "he had swum in the ocean of it, then gone off to teach swimming in other pools."
5) Of the many things that have been written about how Pope Francis leads, I found Gary Hamel's essay for the Harvard Business Review about what he thinks about the problems that ail leaders to be one of the more compelling. The famous management thinker took the pope's Christmas address to the Roman Curia in late 2014 and translated it into the 15 diseases of leadership: excessive "busyness," rivalry and vainglory, and idolizing superiors among them. Hamel's piece is one of the most corporate interpretations of the pope's words; still, it's a practical and useful guide. Seldom, Hamel writes, do management writers "speak plainly about the 'diseases' of leadership. The Pope is more forthright. He understands that as human beings we have certain proclivities — not all of them noble."
6) What better to read to understand Pope Francis's leadership than his own words? The pontiff's landmark encyclical about climate change, a papal document that made the moral argument for addressing global warming, received extraordinary attention and was praised by world leaders for its willingness to confront climate change deniers and communicate with a lay audience.
In Laudato Si, Francis calls on individuals to show leadership on the issue—not just for the benefit of our own children, but because it is the right thing to do. "It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations," he wrote. "We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity."