I read today a transcript of an interview between Pope Francis and journalists as the Pope returned to the Vatican from his recent trip to South America. I noted with great interest his response to a question. The context of the question is not particularly relevant to my point but in short, the journalist was asking the Pope to respond to criticism of his statements about capitalism (among other economic issues). I found the Pope’s response to be a great reminder for leaders (hence my post in this forum). Here’s what the Pope said in response to the question (I’ve bolded the sentences I found very relevant for leaders):
Pope Francis: “What I said, that phrase, it’s not new. I said in Evangelii Gaudium. This economy kills. I remember that phrase well. It had a context. And I said it in Laudato Si’. It’s not a new thing, this is known. I cannot say … I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I heard about it, but I haven’t read about it, I haven’t had the time to study this well, because every criticism must be received, studied, and then dialogue must be ensue. You ask me what I think. If I have not had a dialogue with those who criticize, I don’t have the right to state an opinion, isolated from dialogue, no? This is what comes to mind.”
The reminder I took from this is that as leaders we don’t always have to know the answers on the spot. I think leaders often feel compelled to answer every question at a moment’s notice – whether we simply want to be responsive or whether we feel “weakened” or vulnerable by not having an answer at our fingertips. I’ve certainly had those moments where, in my haste, I answered a question or made a statement I later had to clarify or regretted. The lesson for me is that it’s alright to admit I don’t know something (or that I’ve not even taken the time to form an opinion) but I’ll look into the particular issue further and follow up (of course, we have to actually follow up!).
I also sensed a great deal of humility in the Pope’s response. Whether you’re Christian or not, whether you agree with his world view or not, most would agree he’s a pretty educated person – he could easily have rattled off his views on the issue and moved on. Rather, he admitted he wasn’t familiar with the particular criticism and needed some time to think about and formulate a response. (I suspect the Pope is likely more aware than he admitted … but that’s not my point in this post). From my perspective, it was very humble and also showed respect to his critics – and in my studies and experiences in leadership I’ve found humility and respect are great traits for leaders (and anyone else for that matter).
So, leaders … take it from the Pope: It’s ok to say “I don’t know … but I’ll get back to you.”
What do you think?