Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis as Explained by Chris Lowney

By Mario Damasceno,
Stillman News Writer

How can doing the laundry, having dirty shoes, and ringing a monastery bell provide insight about Pope Francis’ leadership principles? In a Micah Institute for Business and Economics, Center for Catholic Studies and William J. Toth Endowed Professorship sponsored event held on Wednesday, November 4, Chris Lowney drew the significant parallels between the seemingly unrelated topics that heightened the audiences’ anticipation.

Lowney is a one-time Jesuit seminarian that later served as a Managing Director for J.P. Morgan & Co., leading initiatives across three continents.

Since resigning from J.P. Morgan in 2001, he has authored four books, all of which have gained international recognition, including his most recent book, “Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads”.

Mr. Lowney began his presentation by challenging the audience, asking them to think of leaders in their lives. The answers shouted out from the quiet auditorium were the names of famous political and business leaders.

Lowney then asked why the audience members chose these leaders, and they replied with characteristics of “integrity”, “honesty”, and “humility.”

As he stood on stage listening to these qualities, Lowney began to say, “People tend to think of people at the pinnacle of their occupations,” when in reality, he said, “the first people we need to think of as leaders are ourselves.”

When doing research on the leadership principles of Pope Francis, Lowney wanted to find out more about Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man known today as Pope Francis. The first principle, “dirty laundry”, signified Bergoglio’s servant leadership characteristics. When Bergoglio was a young Jesuit priest, he was put in charge of a financially unstable seminary outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He knew that the seminarians needed to give up certain privileges in order to save money.

So, as a servant leader, Bergoglio embraced the situation by saying, “We all have to sacrifice and I go first.”

Lowney explains that it was this sort of attitude that allowed Bergoglio to gain the trust of his colleagues and respect as a leader.

Dusty shoes, the second principle explained by Lowney, dealt with Bergoglio’s strict attention to detail.

Bergoglio was put in charge of a parish in a poor neighborhood, and advised his seminarians to go preach to the poor.

As a leader, Bergoglio knew that he needed to hold the seminarians accountable for doing their jobs.

When they would return in the evening, Bergoglio would wait outside the seminary and look at each of their shoes.

If they were dusty, they did their job, and if not, they did not follow orders.
Lowney correlated this principle with modern living, by stating, “We all need to have dirty shoes along with an understanding of what is most important.”

The ringing of the monastery bell is a Jesuit seminarian ritual.

Lowney explained that it became a symbol to remind the seminarians to, “step back from the world every day,” and “be grateful, lift your horizon, and review the day.”

Lowney again challenged the audience, asking, “What method do you use to keep yourself focused on what your sense of purpose is?”

These principles were meticulously chosen and explained by Lowney to convey the simplistic approach that Pope Francis possesses as a leader, challenging the audience to think about simple ways to become better people.

At the end of the presentation, Lowney left the audience with a final note, “Life puts us into positions that we are not necessarily equipped for, so we must get comfortable with the reality of being uncomfortable.”


A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 17th print edition.

Contact Mario at


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