Here is an interesting perspective on leadership that I recently came upon and wanted to share.
By Carmine Gallo
Reposted from Forbes.com
How many of us can say our former boss was a ‘saint’ and mean it, literally? On Sunday, April 27th Andreas Widmer will be among the millions expected to attend the canonization of Pope John Paul II. Unlike most of the others, however, Widmer holds an especially close relationship to the pontiff. John Paul II was Widmer’s boss.
On Christmas Eve in 1986 Widmer was pulling his first duty as a newly recruited Swiss Guard assigned to protect the pope. When the pope emerged from the papal apartment on his way to celebrate midnight mass he saw Widmer at his post. Widmer was young, homesick, unsure of himself, and depressed about spending his first Christmas away from his family, although he never told anyone. John Paul approached and said, “Of course! This is your first Christmas away from home. I appreciate the sacrifice you’re making for the Church. I’m going to pray for you as I celebrate mass tonight.”
As Widmer reflects on that exchange, he recalls that none of the other guards—his friends—had noticed his anguish that night. Only the one person who would serve one billion Catholics paid special attention to him. It was at that moment that Widmer learned the true meaning of servant leadership. I met Widmer about eighteen months ago and was fascinated at how he applied the lessons he learned from his day to day interactions with John Paul II to his business career and, today, as the Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. I caught up with Widmer before he left for Rome to talk about the legacy that Pope John Paul II leaves every leader who, regardless of faith, hopes to inspire his or her team to achieve excellence.
Encourage people to dream big and to keep their eyes on the long term. “John Paul always took the perspective of my whole life into consideration when talking with me. I think this was rooted in his experience as a university chaplain. Once, he stopped to talk to me. He wanted to know how I was doing and how I liked being a Swiss Guard. I told him about my concerns and worries, which were all focused on the short term. He helped me turn these short-term issues into a long-term vision for the rest of my life.” According to Widmer the pontiff always pushed him to reach for loftier goals and not to settle for mediocrity. “He encouraged me to think big.”
Be fully present for every conversation. “Every time I talked with John Paul, even if it was just passing by to say hello, he made me feel like I was the reason he got up that morning.” Recall Widmer’s first encounter with his new boss on Christmas Eve. Widmer said he was miserable and ready to quit. He thought he had made a huge mistake in signing up for the Swiss Guard. When the pope walked out of his apartment, he could have simply walked by Widmer. “But he did not just pass. He stopped and noticed that I was distraught and even identified the true reason for it. He had the keen ability to notice things in the moment, the true feeling of people he encountered.”
John Paul made people feel special because he was present. This is a very common trait of inspiring leaders. Employees who tell me they work for inspiring leaders nearly always say their boss makes them feel as though they are the most important person in the room and that their boss genuinely cares about their well-being.
Show people that you believe in them. “John Paul had more faith in me than I had in myself,” says Widmer. “This built up my self-esteem and allowed me to achieve more than I would have ever thought possible. He believed in me first, even before I believed in myself.”
Inspiring leaders believe in people, often much more strongly than those people believe in themselves. One of the most inspiring leaders I’ve had the pleasure to interview was a school teacher. Ron Clark was Disney’s Teacher of the Year in 2000. There was even a made-for-TV movie about his experience. Clark’s claim to fame was taking a class of underachieving fifth graders in Harlem and, in one school year, giving them the skills to outperform the gifted class in the end-of-year test. Clark told me that he set high expectations for the students. Clark didn’t tell the students they were going to perform at their class level by the end of the school year. He told them they would outscore the so-called “gifted” class. Once they believed in themselves, the sky was the limit.
View “work” not as a burden, but as an opportunity. According to Widmer, “John Paul II talked about work not in terms of a ‘burden,’ but in terms of an opportunity to become who we are meant to be. He felt that work is what made us fully human.”
John Paul believed that when we work we don’t just make more; we become more. In his encyclical work, “Laborem Exercens,” the pope wrote, “Work is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.”
Celebrate entrepreneurship. John Paul celebrated entrepreneurs because to create something out of nothing is fundamental to spirituality. Just as believers have faith in their creator so to must entrepreneurs have faith in their vision, faith in their team’s ability to execute on the vision, and faith that what they set out to accomplish is connected to something bigger than themselves.
John Paul convinced Widmer that entrepreneurship was a magnificent path upon which to build his life, a path where he could use his own gifts, talents, and ideas to uncover his full potential and to participate in the work of creation.