The United States Congress has built a reputation for being a dysfunctional institution characterized by hyper-partisan bickering and ideological gridlock.
The problem is so bad that billionaire investor Carl Icahn recently expressed his views that the dysfunction in the nation’s capital (and within corporate boardrooms) will likely lead to a collapse in our financial markets. A stunning statement.
So you can appreciate everyone’s curiosity last week, when Pope Francis visited the United States and took time to address the members of Congress. What was going to be the central theme of his message? Was he going to say something that could cut through the dysfunction? Or was he going to simply ignore the issue?
The Pope didn’t ignore it. He addressed it head on and did so in a simple and pointed manner. In short, he told the members of Congress to “be better.”
It was such an important point to make for the politicians in that chamber. In our society, politicians are leaders. They have been elected, in this instance, to lead a nation. And yet, when we see the bickering, the posturing, the deliberate unwillingness to work together, we get disappointed and even disillusioned.
That’s why the words of Pope Francis were so important. He was clearly aware, as many of us are, that Congress has abandoned its leadership obligations in favor of partisan infighting.
The Pope acknowledged that all politicians have to engage in some fighting and disagreement. However, he also noted that politics is in its essence, “an expression of a compelling need to live as one.”
“Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility,” he told Congress. “Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation.” Isn’t this message also relevant for business leaders as well?
That’s why the Pope’s message rang very true for me.
In my exchanges with leaders, I am often prompted to tell them to rise above the noise in their own organizations. In some cultures, the environment is so hostile, you can lose sight of what it means to be a leader. Instead, you feel compelled to protect your turf, keep your resources to yourself, and not to play nice.
I have worked with too many leaders whose days are filled with this sort of battle. It can be exhausting and the thought of being better can feel naïve.
The words of Pope Francis, to “be better”, apply as much to us as leaders as they do to Congress.
When we find ourselves in tough situations that may be adversarial and conflict laden, we simply cannot retreat in our work and get caught up in our own little worlds. Leading is not about bickering, or being petty, or fighting over turf.
Being better begins with reconnecting to higher ideals. It’s about remembering our obligations to those we lead. I encourage each of you to remember the Pope’s call to simply be better. It will remain to be seen if the members of Congress take the Pope’s message to heart.
This week’s gut check is inspired by Pope Francis: Do you strive to be better?
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro