Riding the Bus

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis took public transportation around the city. In the photos, he looks like most of the passengers, stoically putting up with the crowding, hard seats, and noise. I like these pictures though because they say to me, "He lived like folks and put up with what they did. Sure, he could ride around in a limo, but he rode the bus instead." As Pope he lives in a couple of simple rooms, eats his meals in the common dining room, and carries his own bags. After all, how can a leader tell others to live simply so that others may simply live, all the while living like a feudal lord?

Great servant leaders like Francis of Assisi or Pope Francis may express their visions for the Good Life in different words, but they all conceptualize a life in which people's "highest priority needs" are met, and they become "healthier, freer, wiser, and more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants."

Robert Greenleaf, who formulated the concept of servant leadership, adds that the servant leader always asks, "What is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?" Saint Francis poses the same question after urging his followers to love their neighbors as themselves: "And if anyone does not want to love them as himself, let him at least not do them any harm, but let him do good." Centuries apart in time, Greenleaf and Francis have kindred visions of what it means to serve, to love, to live the Gospels — to be servant leaders.

Warren Bennis, author of On Becoming a Leader, remarked: "In the twenty-first century, we will need leaders who know what is important in the long term. Who have a vision, dream, mission, or strategic intent. Who remind people continually of what's important and create an environment where people know why they are there." Like his namesake, Saint Francis, Pope Francis calls us back to the Gospels, so we know what's important and why we are here: Not to ride around like princes and princesses, but to serve one another in love.