Can you correctly guess who has just been voted the world’s most popular leader? What is particularly interesting about this case is that the person was not even popularly elected but, because of his refreshing example and inspiring approach, he today enjoys a higher approval rating than the most popular, democratically elected leaders.
If you guessed Pope Francis, you are absolutely right. A recent survey of 1,000 persons in 64 countries conducted by the WIN/Gallup polling organization found the 79-year-old Argentine-born Bishop of Rome and spiritual leader of the world’s one billion-odd Catholics was more popular than US President Barack Obama, who came in second, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Even atheists are impressed by the latest successor of St Peter.
“Pope Francis is a leader who transcends his own religion,” explained Jean-Marc Leger, WIN/Gallup International’s president. “Our study shows that an ample majority of citizens of the world, of different religious affiliations and across regions, have a favourable image of the Pope.”
The choice, not altogether surprising, sends a clear message about current perceptions and expectations of leadership. It speaks to a deep public yearning worldwide for a particular kind of leadership against a prevailing backdrop of diminishing trust and confidence in political and other authority figures.
In essence, the common desire is for leaders who demonstrate strength of character, deep conviction and commitment to a particular set of values, especially humility and honesty, and set an example by the lives they lead. Since his election three years ago by the College of Cardinals to succeed Benedict XVI who took the unusual step of resigning as holder of the Holy See and Vatican head of state, Pope Francis has satisfied these criteria in the estimation of thousands around the world.
Francis’ humanity, simple lifestyle and powerful advocacy on behalf of the poor and marginalized reflects the model of servant leadership which Jesus the Christ himself practised. In sharp contrast with his predecessors, Francis has brought a fundamentally different approach to the leadership of the worldwide church, beginning with his rejection of the trappings of princely opulence traditionally associated with the papacy.
He lives in a modest guesthouse within the Vatican, instead of the luxury of the papal apartments. His vestments are simple, his pectoral cross is made of iron instead of gold and his papal ring is of silver instead of gold. He is chauffeured around in a Hyundai popemobile in contrast with the Mercedes-Benz used by his predecessor. He wears ordinary black shoes instead of the distinctive red Fisherman’s shoes which were a trademark of his predecessors.
By these simple, yet significant choices, Francis has powerfully demonstrated that he is a leader who is prepared to not just talk the talk but, more importantly, also walk the walk. He made clear at the outset of his papacy that his focus would be on ministering to the poor and marginalized. Francis’ choices, therefore, are a reflection of his identification and solidarity with this particular constituency. Therein lies the basis of his wide appeal, respect and approval.
Many political, religious and other leaders today fall down because they often say one thing and then go on to do the exact opposite, mistakenly believing somehow that they will get away with it. Hasn’t Barbados witnessed quite a few well-known examples of this in our politics during the past few years?
Because we live in a globalized world which has opened up unprecedented access to information through the widespread availability of new technologies, people today are more discerning, have much higher expectations of persons in positions of trust and authority and can easily spot cases of inconsistency, contradiction and hypocrisy.
In the final analysis, leaders are always judged by the extent to which they match words with actions. Words mean precious little and are basically a comfort for a fool. At any rate, actions always speak louder than words. Whenever there is wide disparity between a leader’s words and actions in the estimation of people, loss of trust and confidence is the usual outcome.
Cooperation with the public then becomes compromised with far-reaching consequences. “Trust is a readiness by one party to rely on the other party to keep its promise. Trust is a judgement that the other party is trustworthy or credible,” explained a 2010 World Bank report which examined the issue of trust in government today.
The report observed: “There is evidence that low citizen trust in government can weaken the social contract and lead to citizen and firm disengagement from the state in several key dimensions.” Such disengagement is reflected, for example, in the reluctance of individuals and companies to assume risks and invest in a country’s development.
Honesty is closely associated with trust. The Oxford Dictionary defines this quality as being “free of deceit”, “truthful and sincere” or “simple, unpretentious, and unsophisticated”.
Unfortunately, honesty is a quality people rarely associate with politics today and it helps to partly explain the multifaceted nature of the crisis with which we here in Barbados are currently grappling that has moral, economic, social and political dimensions.
The myriad complaints of Barbadians are fed by an unfortunate perception of a lack of honesty especially on the part of politicians. “Honesty is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue,” go the lyrics of a 1978 Billy Joel hit. “Honesty is hardly ever heard and mostly what I need from you.”
Against this broad backdrop, it is unfortunate that my good friend, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, made the mistake of suggesting recently that enacting integrity legislation is not a priority for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration at this time.
It should be, if for no other reason than the fact that promoting integrity in Government was a central platform promise on which the DLP was elected back in 2008. Eight years have passed and this key promise is yet to be honoured. This failure is a major disappointment for me personally because, as Communications Director on the DLP’s 2008 campaign team, I played a frontline role in communicating to Barbadians a message of change anchored in improved governance.
I had no reason to question the sincerity of my former political colleagues at the time but their subsequent failure to deliver has given me justification today because I genuinely believe a man’s word is his bond. Here is another example where the DLP, especially the post-David Thompson version, has directly contributed to a loss of public trust and confidence. Yet it seems bewildered why the people have a generally negative view of its stewardship.
Delivering sooner rather than later on long overdue integrity legislation, including the promised Code of Conduct for Ministers and a Freedom of Information Act, is key to beginning the process of rebuilding public trust and confidence in government and politics and also repairing the tattered image of the DLP.
There is simply no getting away from it. Not even the best public relations machine can get the DLP out of this political pickle. It is either ‘do or die’ for the beleaguered Dems who face an an election in less than two years and find themselves today at the lowest ebb scrambling to find relevance by riding the tired old horse of Independence.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)