Man Mushing his Siberian Husky Sled Dog Team

Good Shepherds can be Good Mushers

Published On: April 18, 2023By Categories: Musher Management, Self-Interested Caretaking

1.2 billion Catholics, and most of the rest of the world waited anxiously for the arrival of a new Pope. In Pope Francis I, they appear to have a leader who is in many ways appears to be a Musher.

Peggy Noonan, who often writes for the Wall Street Journal, exhibited a palpable excitement of the new Pope and his promise to Catholicism and the world at large when she wrote:

I’ll tell you how it looks: like one big unexpected gift for the church and the world.

Everything about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election was a surprise—his age, the name he took, his mien as he was presented to the world. He was plainly dressed, a simple white cassock, no regalia, no finery. He stood there on the balcony like a straight soft pillar and looked out at the crowd. There were no grand gestures, not even, at first, a smile. He looked tentative, even overwhelmed. I thought, as I watched, “My God—he’s shy.”

Then the telling moment about the prayer. Before he gave a blessing he asked for a blessing: He asked the crowd to pray for him. He bent his head down and the raucous, cheering square suddenly became silent, as everyone prayed. I thought, “My God—he’s humble.”


Yes. This is a kind of public leadership we are no longer used to—unassuming, self-effacing. Leaders of the world now are garish and brazen. You can think of half a dozen of their names in less than a minute. They’re good at showbiz, they find the light and flash the smile.

But this man wasn’t trying to act like anything else. “He looks like he didn’t want to be pope,” my friend said. That’s exactly what he looked like. He looked like Alec Guinness in the role of a quiet, humble man who late in life becomes pope. I mentioned that to another friend who said, “That would be the story of a hero.”

One of the most interesting management lessons in the election of a Pope is the phenomenon of “first among equals”. I have commented on this phenomenon previously. The Pope is selected from within a peer group of Cardinals to become the leader of the Church. Immediately the selected Cardinal is transformed from an “esteemed colleague” to “revered Father”. Equally, the Church’s global congregants estimation of this Cardinal pivot from an admiration of “a man of the cloth” to “ a descendant of the Apostle Peter in direct communion with Christ”. A lofty promotion indeed.

There is a distinct corollary to the new Pope in the instance where a CEO has been promoted from within. How that CEO responds to that transitional moment may arguably define his or her entire tenure and their legacy as the CEO.

In his first moments as Pope, Francis I appears to eschewed the trappings of the Papacy, putting substance and humanity, values and transparency above the institution of the position of Pope. As Peggy Noonan again notes in her blog “The First Days of Francis“:

It really is quite wonderful, what we’re hearing and seeing from Rome. The plain shoes. The plain watch. The slightly galumphy look as he does his walkabouts. The reason he took his name: “How I wish for a poor church, and for a church for the poor.” The report I received of his taking the employee elevator in the Vatican, not the papal one— “Your Holiness!” exclaimed a surprised Swiss Guard. His kissing of the hands of his “brother cardinals” after they would attempt to kiss his ring. The sweetness of his plunging into the crowds. His stopping the jeep Tuesday morning when he was riding around St. Peter’s Square: He saw a disabled man being held by a friend, and stopped to show affection and gratitude. The surprise walkabout Sunday at church. The surprise phone call he made to thousands of Argentines who held an all-night prayer vigil for him Monday in Buenos Aires: “Thank you for praying, for your prayers, which I need a lot.”

Francis I believes that the Church must heal itself from the inside out. He does not appear to think that the Church can excuse itself of its past issues, or current issues, by simply putting a new leader in place; rather, it appears Francis I believes that the observable substance of that leader is critical to the transformation of the culture. Person over position, as it were.

There have been several popular books which advise what a new CEO should do in the first 90 days in the role. The concepts there are generally very sound, but few publications seem to focus on the “first 90 minutes,” as it were, of a new CEO. These 90 minutes are, metaphorically, what may define the new CEO in the eyes of the employees and other stakeholders. They will be an open, authentic expression of values held by the CEO, and observable both through word and deed. How will the business be run under the new CEO? How will challenges be addressed? Will he be inclusive? Will she be outcome-based and visionary, or execution driven and tactical? Will he commit to “change for the better”? Listen before speaking? Demonstrate a genuine interest in the opinions of others? In short, how will she inspire followership?

A consistent theme throughout Musher Management is that it is not about you as the CEO; it is about the Dogs – the employees, the customers, the stakeholders, the parishioners. You have been entrusted with the Sled, you have been entrusted with the well-being of the Dogs. Musher Management suggests that reaching the CEO post is not a culmination of professional journey; rather, it is the beginning of a period of servitude. Francis showed the world in his first 90 minutes, his first 9 days, how he intends to lead, and to serve as Pope. The work of transforming Catholicism, and particularly of the Church itself, will arguably take 9 years, or longer. It will be a long road, often plagued with setbacks. Likewise, although business texts suggest 90 days is the “make or break” period for a CEO to establish himself or herself, business transformations also take years, not months to execute. So really the “break in period” for a new CEO is about “walking the talk” and demonstrating values which will win the hearts and minds of the Dogs.

We Mushers can learn a lot from this Shepherd.

New? Start here.

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  1. Maurita Baker March 26, 2013 at 7:29 am - Reply

    I love this post. I love the parallels you have drawn and the poignancy from which we can all strive to learn and emulate..

  2. Ralph Chermak March 26, 2013 at 8:10 am - Reply

    I really can,t beat Mauritas post. She put it quite elegantly. A great Post and reply.

  3. Camille Olivere March 26, 2013 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Very moving Dave! For the first time in a very long time I am inspired to go back to church. I am also inspired to be a better leader and person.

  4. Sidney Alonso March 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    Great post Dave! I am sorry I missed your birthday this year, better late than never show up…happy b-day! Best,


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