The Pope and The CEO: John Paul IIâ€™s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard
Denver Journal Book Review by Denver Seminary Professor Dr. Larry H. Lindquist
Andreas Wider. The Pope and The CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard. Steubenvill: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2011. 152 pp., $12.95, Soft cover. ISBN-10: 1931018766 ISBN-13: 978-1931018760
If your background includes a fairly isolated evangelical context, then this book will help broaden your perspective to include the inner life of the Vatican and the Swiss Guard. Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of both was limited to a few articles, news media and a short, personal journey through the halls of the Vatican with many other tourists. The author of The Pope and the CEO provides the reader with an insider view of his years serving with the Swiss Guard from 1986-1989. This book is helpful on at least two levels.
First, it familiarizes the reader with a quite personal perspective of the life of Pope John Paul II and his relationship with members of the Swiss Guard. Unguarded moments of personal interaction and fascinating stories about John Paul If’s life and travels fill the pages of this book. It is obvious that the author is in awe of the one he was sworn to protect. The book is filled with Roman Catholic praxis and theological perspective. That fact may cause some discomfort for the more conservative evangelical readers.
Second, the book draws insightful leadership principles from the observations made by this member of the Swiss Guard. He lived and worked closely with John Paul II as he led millions of Roman Catholics around the world. Following his honorable discharge from his service with the Swiss Guard, Wider went on to become the CEO where he practiced the leadership principles he learned from John Paul. This book is a distillation of those principles and reflections on the one who lived those principles before a young member of the Swiss Guard.
In the first chapter, Widmer identifies three levels of vocation. Our Universal vocation is that vocation we all share – to know, love and serve God in this life so that we can know, love, and serve Him eternally in the next life. The second vocation is our Primary vocation. This is subdivided into married life, the priesthood, and the consecrated life (living in society at large). It is through this primary vocation that our love to God is lived and practiced. The last vocation is our Secondary vocation. This is the manifestation of our gifts and talents used in living out our Universal and Primary vocations. For most of us, this means our work or profession. Widmer bemoans that too often our Secondary vocation overshadows the primacy of the first two. Through work we don’t simply make more, we become more. Work shapes us and refines us to better love, and serve our families, clients, neighbors, and communities.
Chapters three and four are worth the price of the book. In these two chapters, Widmer discusses the value of a moral compass, knowing what is right, and knowing how to lead with integrity. He watched John Paul II lead with the confidence of biblical authority and courageous integrity, and found that too many CEOs and managers often express morality, but somehow do not believe rules apply to them. The obligation of standing guard for hours at a time was a discipline Widmer reflects on in his desire to live a life of integrity even when no one is watching. He observed and practiced the character of self-denial in his role as a guard and later as a CEO. What a rare and desperately needed quality in business leaders.
In chapter five Widmer discusses the paradox of planning for the future and living in the present. This leadership insight is drawn from the tension he observed in John Paul II seeking to create a vision for the future of the Roman Catholic Church without doing violence to its deep and rich history. In chapter six, there is a focus on the value of cultivating and synchronizing talent. John Paul II did not simply surround himself with those who agreed with him. Making sure he placed individuals in leadership positions that reflected their talents and challenged him was of great importance. When it comes to leadership there are critics and there are coaches. The critic’s primary objective is not the person but the project. In the critic’s eyes the person is a means to an end. The coach is also concerned about the goal, but always knows that the person always matters more.
The final three chapters focus on how leaders should live their lives. Following the example of John Paul II, the life of the leader reflects a witness to righteousness, balance, humility, and poverty. The term Widmer uses for the last chapter is a life of detachment. Included in that final chapter is a modern paraphrase of the Benedictine Rule of Leadership. Although you will find some Roman Catholic nomenclature, I believe it is worthy of citation here.
- Revere the simple rules. Don’t speed. Stop at red lights. Meet deadlines.
- Reject your personal desires. Fast when a little hungry. Avoid impulse buying. Skip dessert.
- Obey those in positions of authority. Pay your taxes. Follow your confessor’s advice. Rewrite the report for your manager. Take the trash out for your wife.
- Endure affliction. When someone insults you, turn the other cheek. When you’re sick, don’t whine. When you’re snubbed, smile.
- Confess your weakness. When you’re wrong, admit it. When a task at work proves difficult, talk with your manager about what you might be doing wrong. Do an examination of conscience every night. Go to confession.
- Practice contentment. Drive the old car. Keep the old house. Don’t upgrade to the next version of a gadget when the one you have is all you really need.
- Learn self-reproach: When something goes wrong – at home, at work, with friends – make the first question you ask yourself, “What could I have done differently to prevent this.” Be honest with yourself.
- Obey the common rule. Abide by organization policy faithfully and according to the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law.
- Understand that silence is golden. Listen more than you speak. Make your orders few and reasonable.
- Mediate on humility. Read the Gospels. Study the lives of the saints. Think about the great men and women you’ve known. How were they humble? What example did they set? How can you imitate them?
- Speak simply. Talk in a low, quiet voice. Speak gently. Have a kind word for everyone.
- Be humble in appearance. Dress simply. Eat simply. Cultivate simple hobbies and simple tastes.
At the close of each chapter, there are application suggestions, as well as questions for reflection. The book also includes a companion website for more information and follow up conversation for readers who are interested: www.thepopeandtheceo.com.
Larry H. Lindquist, Ed.D.
Director of Leadership Development