Education Opinion

Reflecting on Leadership as the Pope’s Visit Ends

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — September 27, 2015 3 min read
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Do you remember Nelson Mandela’s smile? It became his trademark, the sign to world that he was not a captive of bitterness but was, instead, a man of hope and of forgiveness. His leadership of himself, his nation and the world is symbolic of the power of healing. Perhaps one of his most famous quotes relates to the importance of our work... “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And so, if our work is to change the world, how do we lead it?

This week we have another example of a world leader with a ready and moving smile. As Pope Francis moved among the cities and the people of Washington, New York and Philadelphia, his smile was ever present. Even in very serious moments of a speech or a mass, we grew to know that the smile was right there, just behind the moment. And it always reappeared.

For days, we have watched this man move from the Fiat to the Popemobile. We have seen him in Cathedrals, in the US Congress, the UN General Assembly, at the World Meeting of Families, with children and with the homeless. We have marveled at his leadership and at his smile. As he prepares to leave this country and return to the Vatican, we find ourselves compelled to say what we have observed. How can we not? We care about leaders and leadership and have been watching the man who holds religious authority with billions of believers and moral authority with millions of others. So, what has he made us think?

We have seen his sincerity. He speaks of the poor, not from an elevated place away from them. Though he could do that, it seems he wants to be among those who have the least and the littlest ones. It is there he defines himself and the message he carries into the realm of the most powerful, the world leaders. We have seen his humility, claiming his Fiat and his walk among the people. Although his position carries the regalia of the head of the Catholic Church, he wears it rather than let himself become the privileged one. All who meet him come away with the deep sense that his message is honest, it is from his depth, his heart is in it.

Humility while sitting in the papal chair... how does one do that? One must carry an inner identity far stronger than any external one can be. His heart seems so open while living in a world of crisis and of politics....how does one do that? One must trust that love will triumph if one can but follow the path that is uniquely theirs to live. And can that heart direct the ear toward those whose voice calls from the roadside rather than the table or the inner sanctums of power? Yes, it must.

And, it makes us think again of his smile. It is often said that a smile is universal language. We know how a smile can change the dynamic of a situation or interaction with a child or a parent. We know how rehearsed a smile can be and wonder when to trust it as sincere. But, the Pope’s smile was something else. It was connected to his eyes, as he smiled they lighted up. His whole face did. It called us to label it joy.

Yes, we hope for educational leaders who can be humble, honest, and heartfelt as they work. But, maybe, it is his smile that carries the most important message for us. Are our smiles perfunctory or are they joyful? Do they change our eyes and our whole face? Do they cause people to want to be with us and listen to us and even follow us? Shouldn’t joy be easy to feel in a career calling that deals with children every day?

As a profession, we have searched for strategies and programs and solutions that would change our work. Maybe it is simply joy we need. If we had more of it, maybe it would be transformative.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.