Like all of us, St. Francis scored some wins and some losses when it came to leadership. And like all of us, Francis didn’t always know in advance which approach to leadership would prove effective.
Francis’ failures can prove just as instructive as his successes. As I reflect on Francis’ life, three lessons in leadership effectiveness that I can learn from his failures stand out to me.
1. Clarity of mission. When Francis returned home to Italy from his journey to Egypt in 1220, he found his brothers divided and in conflict. Brother John had decided to organize the lepers the brothers were serving into a religious order and requested approval for the order from the Holy See. Brother Phillip had sought special protections from the Pope for the Poor Clares (defying Francis’ instructions not to seek favors in high places). Brothers Matthew and Gregory had imposed stricter fasting guidelines on the brothers, more appropriate for monks than for active friars. All of these measures had stirred up turmoil in the order and revealed a lack of clarity about the purpose of the life of the brothers. Conflict-averse himself, Francis had avoided clarifying the mission of the order, either personally or in concert with his brothers. Without clarity of mission, brothers had different understandings of what direction their lives and ministries should go. As the order had grown and with Francis away, the situation had spiraled out of control.
Clarity of mission can help a group stay focused through the stresses of growth and the temporary absence of the leader.