Catholic School Matters

February 5, 2017

Disruptive Leaders: Pope Francis & President Trump

Pope Francis and President Trump have disrupted (and continue to disrupt) their respective institutions. Both have inspired devoted followers and sparked outrage. It’s worth comparing and contrasting these two leaders for those of us who aspire to disrupt the status quo and bring about change.

Though Pope Francis’s election in 2013 and his new approach to the papacy brought him many fans and the Church lots of attention, it’s important to note that he has riled up many Catholics. “Not my Pope,” they will claim. These pockets of dissent occasionally emerge into the open such as the latest Knights of Malta controversy. Orthodox Catholics are now used to the claim that the infallibility of the pope only applies to faith and morals.

Similarly, President Trump has upended Washington conventions through his unique, unpredictable approach. He has devoted fans and others who have joined his coalition in order to accomplish their goals such as pro-life causes, limiting regulation, and improving job prospects. Many Americans who allowed the growth of presidential power through executive orders have suddenly become less supportive of a powerful executive branch.

Let’s take a look at an article by Learning.Ly entitled “5 Habits of Disruptive Leadership.” Below are four of the habits of disruptive leaders:

1. They are on a relentless pursuit of the truth.

Both leaders seem unsatisfied with the status quo. Pope Francis seems more willing to adopt a pastoral approach and to upend the trappings of the papacy. He has not, however, altered any fundamental Church teachings. President Trump, however, seems willing to “go nuclear,” as he himself said and he has certainly challenged long-standing beliefs of his adopted political party. Both, however, disrupt in a sincere desire to improve the lives of their followers (and in the Pope’s case – all of humanity).

2. They’re decisive.

On this count, both leaders seem to be equally decisive. With Pope Francis, however, we’ve had the benefit of four years. The pace of change has slowed a bit and we have a better sense of his priorities (cleaning up the administrative mess at the Vatican, instilling a pastoral approach to the Church). President Trump’s approach seems more frenetic and frankly, following the pace of action is a bit tiring. It is clear that President Trump will act as he chooses and not walk back on promises made.

3. They are not threatened by uncertainty.

Both leaders seem to thrive on uncertainty. Pope Francis has brought a little more gray to the black & white world of the Vatican and he seems comfortable with that. President Trump’s foreign policy has been called the “chaos” policy because he keeps behaving unpredictably. Therefore, he is keeping other countries off balance.

4. They will break the rules in order to make new ones.

Pope Francis has declined his palatial apartment, has fired plenty of Vatican insiders, and has appointed church leaders in his mold. “Unprecedented” is a word often used to describe his actions. Likewise, President Trump has continued to break the rule: not releasing his taxes, not divesting himself from his companies, appointing his son-in-law to a White House position, appointing cabinet secretaries who were previously opposed to the departments, lack formal experience in the government, etc. The list could go on and on.

Ultimately, the question to ask about a disruptive leader is about the long-term impact. Pope Francis was elected at an advanced age and in poor health. He was seen as a transition candidate who could clean up the Vatican bureaucracy (after all, he finished as runner-up in the last papal election). People assumed him to be a short-term solution but my guess is that his Vatican reforms will have lasting impact. President Trump dismisses those people who fail to understand the need for his disruption. After all, his self-assurance and confidence are part of his popularity. So whether his reforms will have long-lasting impacts remains to be seen.

At the very least, this comparison should allow us to observe their leadership impact in a new way. As we observe the disruptions in our institutions caused by these two leaders, we can draw lessons for our own leadership.

Dr. Tim Uhl, Superintendent

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"Catholic School Matters" Podcast

Tomorrow's pocast (#26) is an interview with Helen Dahlman, the former principal of Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis. She shares her struggles and lessons learned over her career as a Catholic educator.

Last week was a week of podcasts in celebration of Catholic Schools Week.

  • Monday's episode (#21) included an interview with Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, the chair of the NCEA Board of Directors. He discusses the state of Catholic schools in the United States.
  • Tuesday's episode (#22) is an interview with Dr. Dan Guernsey of the Cardinal Newman Society. Dr. Guernsey discusses their efforts to establish Catholic curricular standards to supplement basic standards such as the Common Core.
  • Wednesday's episode (#23) is an interview with Rebeca Bautista of the Archdiocese of Miami's Virtual School, an innovative and growing venture.
  • Thursday's episode (#24) is an interview with Fr. Brian O'Brien of Tulsa's Bishop Kelley High School. We discuss how to promote vocations in Catholic schools.
  • Friday's episode (#25) is an interview with Doug Tooke of Helena, Montana. Doug is a renowned youth minster and he discusses what youth ministry can teach Catholic schools.

Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes. Please subscribe to the podcast so new episodes will automatically download. The show is also available on Stitcher and Google Play. If you don't have accounts with any of those content providers, here is the link to my basic page with the podcasts.

Last week, Dr. Uhl blogged about:

  • MONDAY: Bishop Murry's podcast on the state of Catholic Schools
  • TUESDAY: Dr. Dan Guernsey podcast on the role of the Cardinal Newman Society
  • WEDNESDAY: Book Blog: Born to Run from Bruce Springsteen
  • THURSDAY: Fr. Brian O'Brien's podcast on promoting vocations to the priesthood
  • FRIDAY: "Disruptive Leadership"

This week, Dr. Uhl will blog about:

  • TUESDAY: Helen Dahlman's podcast
  • WEDNESDAY: Book Blog: The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey.
  • FRIDAY: "Catching the Car"

You can find and subscribe to the blog at

The Week Ahead

Monday: office (Helena)

Tuesday: office (Helena)

Wed: Great Falls meeting

Thurs: office (Helena)

Fri: St. Paul Education Association Virtual meeting & Great Falls meetings

Next week: 393 miles

Last week: 906 miles

2016-17: 22,766 driving miles; 14,376 air miles

What I'm Reading 2016-17

  1. The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
  2. Weathering the Storm: Moving Catholic Schools Forward by DeFiore, Convey, & Schuttloffel (finished)
  3. Missoula by Jon Krakauer (finished)
  4. Redeeming Administration by Ann Garrido. (finished)
  5. Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni. (finished)
  6. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (finished)
  7. Stall Points by Matthew S. Olson & Derek van Bever (finished)
  8. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (finished)
  9. Why Don't Kids Like School? by Daniel Willingham (finished)
  10. Tom Clancy: Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney (finished)
  11. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam (finished)
  12. The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (finished)
  13. Reading with the daughter: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (7 books, finished).
  14. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (finished)
  15. The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey (finished)
  16. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (finished)
  17. The Purple Goldfish by Stan Phelps (finished)
  18. The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen (finished)
  19. Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. (finished)
  20. Reinvention: Accelerating Results in the Age of Disruption Cragun & Sweetman (finished)
  21. Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work by Fullan and DuFour (finished)
  22. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (finished)
  23. Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time by Margaret J. Wheatley (finished)
  24. The Orange Frog by Shawn Achor (finished)

For Principals & Teachers

  1. You should begin putting the possibility of a national strike (Feb 17th) on your radar. If this movement grows, you might see requests (or sick-in calls) from your teachers. It's possible students might strike, too. At this point, we don't know how large the movement will become but I would recommend starting to converse with your staff and developing a response.
  2. Last call for principals to sign up their 7th & 8th graders for the Feb 24th day at the legislature. We're planning to hear from a Supreme Court Justice, observe the House & Senate in session, and hear from a variety of government officials. Refer to the Google form I sent via email last week.
  3. There are 20 free subscriptions to Bishop Barron's "Word on Fire" Catholicism School Enrichment program. The next 18 teachers to contact the superintendent will earn this subscription.
  4. Interested in serving on a WCEA team? We have only one elementary visit next year. St. Joe's (Missoula) will be hosting a team October 1-4. Please email Dr. Uhl if you're interested.
  5. Interested in pursuing a Master's in Educational Leadership with a focus on Catholic education? Loyola Marymount is offering a special program and scholarship money is available from Catholic Extension.
  6. On the Horizon:
  • 7th/8th grade days at the legislature Feb 24th
  • Loyola Sacred Heart WCEA visit: March 15-17
  • St. Paul MGS WCEA visit: March 19-21
  • St. Mary's WCEA visit: March 27-29
  • Regional principal meetings: April 10 (GF), 11 (Missoula), 12 (Billings).

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