The 15 Diseases of Leadership, According to Pope Francis

The 15 Diseases of Leadership, According to Pope Francis

Pope Francis has not tried to hide his desire to radically reform the administrative structures of the Catholic Church, which he sees as imperious and insular. The Church is, essentially, a bureaucracy, full of good-hearted but imperfect people – not much different than any organization, making the Pope’s counsel relevant for leaders everywhere. Pope Francis’s 2014 address of the Roman Curia can be translated into corporate-speak. It identifies 15 “diseases” of leadership that can weaken the effectiveness of any organization. These diseases include excessive busyness that neglects the need for rest, and mental and emotional “petrification” that prevents compassion and humility. The Pope also warns against poor coordination, losing a sense of community by failing to work together. A set of questions corresponding to the 15 diseases can help you determine if you are a “healthy” leader.

Pope Francis has made no secret of his intention to radically reform the administrative structures of the Catholic church, which he regards as insular, imperious, and bureaucratic. He understands that in a hyper-kinetic world, inward-looking and self-obsessed leaders are a liability.

Last year, just before Christmas, the Pope addressed the leaders of the Roman Curia — the Cardinals and other officials who are charged with running the church’s byzantine network of administrative bodies. The Pope’s message to his colleagues was blunt. Leaders are susceptible to an array of debilitating maladies, including arrogance, intolerance, myopia, and pettiness. When those diseases go untreated, the organization itself is enfeebled. To have a healthy church, we need healthy leaders.

Through the years, I’ve heard dozens of management experts enumerate the qualities of great leaders. Seldom, though, do they speak plainly about the “diseases” of leadership. The Pope is more forthright. He understands that as human beings we have certain proclivities — not all of them noble. Nevertheless, leaders should be held to a high standard, since their scope of influence makes their ailments particularly infectious.

The Catholic Church is a bureaucracy: a hierarchy populated by good-hearted, but less-than-perfect souls. In that sense, it’s not much different than your organization. That’s why the Pope’s counsel is relevant to leaders everywhere.

With that in mind, I spent a couple of hours translating the Pope’s address into something a little closer to corporate-speak. (I don’t know if there’s a prohibition on paraphrasing Papal pronouncements, but since I’m not Catholic, I’m willing to take the risk.)

Herewith, then, the Pope (more or less):


The leadership team is called constantly to improve and to grow in rapport and wisdom, in order to carry out fully its mission. And yet, like any body, like any human body, it is also exposed to diseases, malfunctioning, infirmity. Here I would like to mention some of these “[leadership] diseases.” They are diseases and temptations which can dangerously weaken the effectiveness of any organization.

Friends, these diseases are a danger for every leader and every organization, and they can strike at the individual and the community levels.


So, are you a healthy leader? Use the Pope’s inventory of leadership maladies to find out. Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 5, to what extent do I . . .

As in all health matters, it’s good to get a second or third opinion. Ask your colleagues to score you on the same fifteen items. Don’t be surprised if they say, “Gee boss, you’re not looking too good today.” Like a battery of medical tests, these questions can help you zero in on opportunities to prevent disease and improve your health. A Papal leadership assessment may seem like a bit of a stretch. But remember: the responsibilities you hold as a leader, and the influence you have over others’ lives, can be profound. Why not turn to the Pope — a spiritual leader of leaders — for wisdom and advice?

Gary Hamel is a visiting professor at London Business School and the founder of the Management Lab. He is a co-author of Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them (Harvard Business Review Press, forthcoming).

The 15 Diseases of Leadership, According to Pope Francis

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