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What Pope Francis can teach CEOs about leadership

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    Cardinals from around the world gathered in the Vatican to elect the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

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    Pope Francis gestures during his inauguration Mass at St Peter's Square on March 19 at the Vatican.

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    Pope Francis arrives in Saint Peter's Square for his inaugural Mass at the Vatican.

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    Wellwishers gather during the inauguration Mass for Pope Francis in St Peter's Square.

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    Pope Francis conducts Mass on March 19 in Vatican City.

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    Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for his inauguration Mass.

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  • Image: Pope Francis descends the stairs as he takes part in his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

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    Pope Francis descends the stairs as he takes part in his inaugural Mass.

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    Cardinals during the inauguration Mass of Pope Francis.

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    Nuns follow the Mass for the inauguration of Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square.

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    Pope Francis prays during his inauguration Mass.

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  • Image: Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner attends the inaugural mass of Pope Francis in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

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    Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner attends the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square.

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    Nuns greet Pope Francis as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for his inauguration Mass.

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    Pope Francis kisses a child in St. Peter's Square on March 19.

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    Nuns and priests attend the inauguration Mass of Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square.

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    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attends Pope Francis' installation Mass in St. Peter's Square.

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  • Image: A woman holds a Vatican flag as she and other faithful watch a televised broadcast of the inaugural mass of Pope Francis near the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires

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    A woman holds a Vatican flag as she and other faithful watch a televised broadcast of the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis near the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires on March 19. The installation of Pope Francis was especially meaningful for his fellow Argentinians.

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    Hundreds of faithful watch Pope Francis' installation Mass on a big screen outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 19. Argentina's former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as leader of the Catholic Church on March 13.

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    People watch Pope Francis' installation Mass on a big screen outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 19.

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  • Image: The papal mitre is placed on the head of Pope Francis during his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

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    The papal mitre is placed on the head of Pope Francis during his inaugural Mass in St. Peter's Square.

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    Prelates and faithful fill St. Peter's Square to attend Pope Francis' installation Mass.

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    Italian cardinal Angelo Sodano puts the Fisherman's Ring, made of gold-plated silver, on the finger of Pope Francis during his inauguration Mass.

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    Pope Francis tours St. Peter's Square before his inaugural Mass.

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    Pope Francis waves to crowds in St. Peter's Square as he rides on the popemobile before his inauguration Mass.

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  • Image: Nuns run in Saint Peter's Square to take a good vantage point before the inaugural mass for Pope Francis at the Vatican

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    Nuns run in St. Peter's Square to get a good vantage point before the inaugural Mass for Pope Francis.

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  • Image: Newly elected Pope Francis holds a mate given to him from Argentine President Cristina Kirchner at the Vatican

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    Newly elected Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, holds a mate given to him as a present from Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Vatican City on March 18.

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    Pope Francis waves to the crowd at St. Peter's Square during his first Angelus prayer at the Vatican on March 17.

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    Pope Francis, center, greets faithful after a Mass at Santa Anna church on March 17. Pope Francis grabbed an opportunity to shake hands with well-wishers, plunging into crowds pushing against barricades outside a Vatican gate as security and the Swiss Guard stood by nervously.

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    Pope Francis prays at the Lourdes grotto at the Vatican on March 16.

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    Pope Francis, left, greets Italian Dean Cardinal Angelo Sodano during a meeting of the world's cardinals on March 15. Pope Francis urged the Catholic Church not to give in to "pessimism" and to find new ways of spreading the faith "to the ends of the earth."

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    People watch Pope Francis on a giant screen in St. Peter's Square as he celebrates Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel on March 14.

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    Pope Francis, center, waves as he leaves Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica after a visit in Rome, on March 14.

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  • Image: Newly elected Pope Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, checks out of the church-run residence where he had been staying in Rome

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    Newly elected Pope Francis checks out of the church-run residence, where he had been staying in Rome, on March 14. Pope Francis returned on Thursday to the Church-run residence where he was staying before becoming pontiff, and he insisted on paying the bill, even though he is now effectively in charge of the business, the Vatican said.

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    Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on March 13 in Vatican City. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

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  • Image: Faithful from Argentina cheer as newly elected Pope Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican

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    People from Argentina cheer as newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican after being elected by the conclave of cardinals, on March 13.

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    A nun reacts after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on March 13.

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    Newly elected Pope Francis waves to the waiting crowd from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13.

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    Argentina's Jorge Bergoglio, elected Pope Francis waves from a balcony of St. Peter's Basilica's after being elected the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13.

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    A nun smiles in St. Peter's Square outside the Vatican as Pope Francis addresses the crowd for the first time, on March 13.

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    A man stands in front of St. Peter's Basilica after white smoke billowed out of the chimney on March 13, in Vatican City.

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    Visitors take photos of Pope Francis as he speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on March 13.

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  • Image: Faithful wave Argentina's flag after white smoke rose from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel indicating a new pope has been elected at the Vatican

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    A person waves Argentina's flag after white smoke rose from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel on March 13.

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    People react after the announcement that Buenos Aires archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, at Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires on March 13.

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  • Image: Parishioners ring the 100-year-old bells in the tower of Holy Rosary Cathedral in honour of new Pope Francis in Vancouver

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    Parishioners ring the 100-year-old bells in the tower of Holy Rosary Cathedral in honor of new Pope Francis in Vancouver, British Columbia, on March 13.

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    A girl waves an American flag as she reacts before newly elected Pope Francis appeared on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on March 13.

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    Cardinals watch as Pope Francis speaks to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, on March 13.

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    Ana Paula Valacco, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, reacts to the news of the election of the new pope at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, on March 13.

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    French proto-deacon cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, center, announces the name of the new Pope, Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on March 13.

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  • Image: Faithful cheer as white smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican

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    People cheer as white smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, indicating a new pope has been elected on March 13.

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    Swiss guards arrive in front of the balcony where the new pope will appear, minutes after white smoke rose from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel on March 13.

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    A woman cheers as white smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, indicating a new pope has been elected at the Vatican on March 13.

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    A general view shows the crowd at St. Peter's Square after white smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announcing that Catholic Church cardinals had elected a new pope on March 13.

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    Flavio Scherer, brother of Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, and his wife Terezina Scherer, left, react as white smoke rises from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, as they watch a live transmission from their house in Toledo, Brazil, on March 13. Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope, the first ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. Scherer was considered a likely contender to be named pope.

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    White smoke emerges from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on March 13. The white smoke indicates that a new pope has been elected.

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    Crowds cheer after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on March 13.

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  • Image: Faithful wait in the rain under umbrellas at Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

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    People wait in the rain under umbrellas at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 13.

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  • Image: A seagull stands on the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel, during the second day of voting for the election of a new pope at the Vatican

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    A bird stands on the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel, during the second day of voting for the election of a new pope at the Vatican on March 13.

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    Black smoke emerges from a chimney on the Sistine Chapel, signaling that a new pope has not been elected, on March 13. In the foreground is the statue of St. Paul.

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  • Image: Faithful shelter from rain while waiting for smoke to rise from a chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel during the second day of voting for the election of a new pope at the Vatican

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    People shelter from rain while waiting for smoke to rise from a chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel during the second day of the conclave, on March 13.

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    A woman prays in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on March 13.

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    Nuns wait for the chimney smoke in St. Peter's Square during the second day of the conclave to elect a new pope, at the Vatican, on March 13. Black smoke again billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday, meaning that Catholic cardinals did not elect a pope on their second or third rounds of balloting.

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    TV tents sit near the St. Peter's Basilica during the conclave on March 12.

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  • Image: A nun looks through binoculars as people wait for an indication as to whether the College of Cardinals have elected a new Pope.

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    A nun looks through binoculars as people wait for smoke from a chimney in St. Peter's Square on March 12.

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    Nuns react as black smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, indicating that no pope has been elected, in Vatican City on March 12.

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    Black smoke emerges from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, in St. Peter's Square, on March 12. The black smoke indicates that the cardinals did not elect a new pope.

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    People watch on a video monitor in St. Peter's Square as Monsignor Guido Marini, master of liturgical ceremonies, closes the double doors to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City on March 12, at the start of the conclave of cardinals to elect the next pope. Marini closed the doors after shouting "Extra omnes," Latin for "all out," telling everyone but those taking part in the conclave to leave the frescoed hall. He then locked it.

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    Cardinals take an oath of secrecy inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, on March 12, before they start the conclave to elect the 266th Roman Catholic pope.

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    Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel prior to the start of the conclave at the Vatican, on March 12.

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    Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square watch a giant television screen showing cardinals in the Sistine Chapel before the conclave begins on March 12 in Vatican City.

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    Cardinals and the faithful attend a Mass for the election of a new pope celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano inside St. Peter's Basilica, on March 12.

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    U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, left, shares a word with Hong Kong Cardinal John Tong Hon as they attend a Mass for the election of a new pope celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, on March 12.

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    Cardinal Angelo Sodano leads other cardinals in a Mass for the election of a new pope inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, on March 12.

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    A Cardinal prays during a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 12. All cardinals, including those over 80 who will not vote in the conclave, celebrate Mass in St Peter's Basilica to pray for the election of the new pope. The Mass is called "Pro Eligendo Romano Pontefice" ("For the Election of the Roman Pontiff") and was open to the public.

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    The sun sets behind St. Peter's Basilica in St. Peter's Square on March 11, in Vatican City.

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    People stand outside St. Peter's Basilica, as a Mass taking place inside for the election of a new pope is broadcast on a giant screen, in St. Peter's Square on March 12.

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    People gather in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 11.

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    The inside of the Sistine Chapel, which has been prepared for the conclave voting by the cardinals, at the Vatican.

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    The Sistine Chapel stoves that will send up the smoke signal that lets the world know if a pope has been elected.

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    Cardinals will place their votes for the next pope in these urns.

    L'Osservbatore Romano via Reuters / L'Osservbatore Romano via Reuters
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    The vestments for the next pope, displayed in three different sizes, hang in the "Room of Tears" prior to the start of the conclave in the Sistine Chapel on March 12.

    L'Osservbatore Romano via EPA / L'Osservbatore Romano via EPA
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    Members of the fire and rescue service install a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on March 9.

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    A priest makes a phone call as workers install velvet curtains on the main balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on March 11 in Vatican City.

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    Members of the media stand in St. Peter's Square on March 12.

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    A nun prays in front of St. Peter's Basilica early on March 12.

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He dresses modestly, pays his own hotel bills, personally greets parishioners and insists on taking the bus with his colleagues instead of riding in his lush private car.

Pope Francis has held Catholicism’s highest position for less than a week, and yet he has already grabbed the attention of Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his humble, down-to-earth style of leadership.

Experts say it’s a smart move for a man who has just picked to lead an organization desperate to regain the public’s trust and reinvigorate its many workers. In fact, it’s something that many American chief executive officers could learn from.

“Leadership of anything means mission first and your self-interest last,” said Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “That’s the very definition of what it means to lead.”

There’s no doubt that most chief executives work hard on behalf of their employees, customers and shareholders. But experts note that in recent years, many also have become further and further removed from both the lifestyle of their employees and workings of their companies.

“Weirdly enough, in this Woodstock generation, (CEOs) are more insulated and pampered and elevated than any before,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, head of The Chief Executive Leadership Institute at the Yale School of Management.

Many large-company CEOs travel by corporate jet and work in offices that could be thousands of miles from the shop floor, surrounded by a staff of aides and public relations experts who limit their exposure to employees, investors and the public.

It’s also no longer uncommon to demand compensation packages in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. The lavish pay was a main theme of recent protests about the growing gap between the so-called 1 percent of the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers and the remaining 99 percent of the public.

Pope Francis seems intent on going in the opposite direction. His now-famous frugal lifestyle is in contrast even to many others in the Roman Catholic Church and also is a powerful symbol of his commitment to building what he recently termed “a poor church for the poor.”

That mission comes after several years in which the church has been plagued by scandal and struggled to adjust to changing mores.

Chief executives acting in a time of crisis also can build, or ruin, their reputations depending on the examples they set.

Former Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit drew accolades in 2009 when he agreed to take a salary of just $1 as the nation was grappling with a recession and the results of the financial crisis. But not long after, he was seen as a symbol of overly lavish pay when Citi’s shareholders voted down his $15 million pay package. He stepped down last fall.

It’s about perks as well as pay. Newly appointed Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer drew intense criticism from some working parents after her company’s decision to ban employees from working from home, especially when reports surfaced that Mayer had allegedly built a nursery next to her office for her own young son.

Some chief executives have found that they are able to build morale, and gain customers, by regularly mixing among their workers. Sonnenfeld noted that JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman was known for regularly flying in coach alongside his customers and even occasionally working as a flight attendant.

The style drew a lot of acclaim, but he was replaced in 2007 after the company suffered a big black eye over storm-related travel snafus. He has since founded Azul Brazilian Airlines.

Donald Hambrick, a management professor at Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business who has studied CEO narcissism, said chief executives who spend time with rank-and-file employees may have more information on which to base decisions than those who only surround themselves with top execs and other CEOs.

Still, he said that to be an effective leader you also have to make clear that although you are listening to your employees and customers, you are in charge and will ultimately make the tough calls.

Hambrick said there’s no strong evidence that being humble makes you a better leader. But he also noted that there’s no evidence that being particularly authoritarian works better, either.

“If you can lead an organization without making people miserable, why don’t you do it that way?” Hambrick said. “There’s no evidence that you have to make people miserable to be a good leader.”

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