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The Dark and the Light: Two Faces of Transformational Leadership

Two men: one is humble and the other is not. One recently called for all churches to join in unity and pray for peace around the world. The other is responsible for the brutal murders of over 5,500 men, women, and children since June as well as the kidnapping of over 450 women to be sold or given away as sex slaves. One was elected to his leadership position, the other appointed himself taking advantage of a void of leadership. One resides over a worldwide church numbering an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. The other leads 31,500 fighters with an unknown number of supporters. One says “war is not to be waged in the name of God” while the other threatens to conquer the former in the name of God (Grant, 2014).


Despite these differences, the men share many commonalities. They are two of today’s most famous world leaders; Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self- proclaimed Caliph of the Islamic State (IS). Not only do these two men both lead religious organizations, they derive their authority from a higher power.  In both cases, God provides them with guidance; one through the Bible and the other through the Quran. Both men have dedicated followers who share many of their beliefs.


Though both Pope Francis and al-Baghdadi display attributes of more than one leadership style, the paper proposes that both can be considered transformational leaders notwithstanding their completely contradictory ideologies. Although several leadership theorists suggest leaders who values are considered evil by Western society cannot be transformational leaders, this paper refutes that notion in the case of al-Baghdadi. The background of both men and the theory of transformational leadership will first be examined. Then the leadership of Pope Francis and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi will be assessed against a model of transformational leadership developed by Bernard Bass and Ronald Riggio.


Background and Rise to Power


Jorge Bergoglio was born to Italian immigrants in Buenos Aries in 1936. One of five children, his father worked for the railroad and his mother was dedicated to raising their children. Originally schooled as a chemical technician, he choose the path of the priesthood and rose through the ranks of the Catholic Church (Moynihan, 2013, p. 16). Ordained a priest in 1969, within four years he became father provincial. He served for many years as a Jesuit teacher and in 1992, Pope John Paul II named him auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. In 1998, after the death of his predecessor, Bergoglio became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires (Lanser, 2014, p. 100). His role in the church continued to expand as he took on additional duties in both Rome and Argentina resulting in Pope John Paul II appointing him as a cardinal in 2001 (Lanser, 2014, p. 100). When Pope Benedict made the unprecedented decision to step down, Cardinal Bergoglio’s fellow cardinals elected him to lead the entire Catholic Church. Bergoglio chose the name of Francis because of his admiration for the simplicity of Saint Francis and for his great love of the poor (Moynihan, 2013, p.11).


As much as one man appears an open book, the other maintains a much lower profile. Born in 1971 in Samarra, Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi grew up in a middle to upper class religious family and majored in Islamic Studies. He earned a doctorate from Baghdad University in the late 1990s and is thought to have held a religious position in the Sunni Community when Iraq was invaded by the United States in 2003 (Sekulow, 2014, p. 22). He helped start a resistance movement but was captured and imprisoned in a U.S.-run camp from 2005 to 2009. It was when he left this prison that he spoke the following widely-publicized words to the American prison commander; “I will see you guys in New York” (Staklebeck, 2014). Upon his release, al-Baghdadi joined the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Following the deaths of two of his predecessors, he took over as the Emir, or leader, in 2010 (Sekulow, 2014, p.22). In 2013, he renamed the organization the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In July, 2014 al-Baghdadi declared the land he had conquered as the new Caliphate and pronounced himself Caliph Ibrahim (Gupta, 2014). Once again, he changed the name of the organization to the Islamic State (IS). In his first televised speech, he warned all Muslims “the establishment of a Caliphate is an obligation” and called on them to “obey” him as long as he obeys God (Gupta, 2014). His stated goal is to take the Caliphate to Rome.


Leadership czar Peter Northouse (2012) defines leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 5). Leadership can be either assigned, as in the case of Pope Francis, or emergent like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s rise to power. Leaders achieve their influences normally either through positional power which automatically comes with their title in a formal system or personal power which followers give to leaders they believe in (Northouse, 2012, p. 5).


Pope Francis rose through the ranks of a structured, bureaucratic organization while al-Baghdadi took advantage of a vacuum of power created by war and the violent deaths of his predecessors. Upon election as pope, Pope Francis became the caretaker of the world’s largest church. Given this tremendous positional power to which he was elected, one of Pope Francis very first requests was for people to pray for him (Moynihan, 2013, p. 12). Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on the other hand, bestowed his positional power upon himself by declaring himself “Caliph Ibrahim.”


Although these two men achieved their position and power very differently; there are parallels between their leadership abilities and their ultimate goals for their organizations.


What’s in a Name?


Both of these men have taken different names upon coming into their new leadership position. The names, or title in the case of al-Baghdadi, provide key insights into what each man stands for. Cardinal Bergoglio choose to be called “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi – the first of 266 men elected pope to select it. Vatican expert Robert Moynihan (2013) reported the selection of Francis was the first clue provided into Bergoglio’s character (p. 10). It signaled the new pope would break new ground in “great simplicity, and out of deep love for the poor of this world” (Moynihan, 2013, p. 10). Along with his disdain of hierarchical perks and his great desire to reach out to those suffering, Pope Francis has made his vision clear; to evangelize the world and transform the church.


In July, al-Baghdadi declared conquered parts of Syria and Iraq to be the new Caliphate and then reported he would be the Caliph or leader of the world’s 2 billion Muslims (Carter, 2014). He declared his new name to be Caliph Ibrahim. By taking this unprecedented step, al-Baghdadi has done something Osama bin Laden was not able to do – establish the Caliphate on occupied ground. Despite an outcry from other radical and peaceful Muslim groups, this declaration has encouraged others to follow him. In a video, the self-proclaimed Caliph said “God created us to worship him and spread his religion, and ordered us to fight his enemies for him and for religion,” adding Muslims are sinners if they did not seek the goal of establishing an Islamic state (Carter, 2014). Like Pope Francis, al-Baghdadi’s vision to change the world is also clear.


Transformational Leadership


As its name suggests, transformational leadership is “a process that changes and transforms people” and is “concerned with emotions, values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals” (Northouse, 2012, p. 185). Transformational leaders are normally charismatic and visionary and can motivate followers to do more than what is normally expected of them. Transformational leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, George Washington, and others, set out a vision and influenced followers to join them in achieving it. So did Adolf Hitler. Many leadership theorists align transformational leadership with a positive outcome for followers actually leading them to a higher level of good or morality (Northouse, 2012, p. 185). In order to recognize the transforming leadership of Hitler and others who focused on their own interests rather than those of the group, some theorists have applied the term “pseudotransformational leadership” to describe them (Northouse, 2012, p. 187). Although a convenient distinction in some cases, al-Baghdadi does not fall into this category as he appears to truly believe what he is doing is for the greater good.


A Model by Bass and Riggio


Bernard Bass and Ronald Riggio (2006) have developed a model of transformational leadership which centers around four factors; idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (pp. 6-7). Transformational leaders achieve results through their use of one or more of these core components.


Idealized Influence. This factor has been called the “emotional component” of leadership (Bass & Riggio, 2006, p. 6). Leaders who display this characteristic serve as a role model for followers who, in turn, admire and respect them. They have very high standards of conduct and followers can count on them to uphold the values of the organization or group. These leaders are consistent and continually remind followers of the vision and emphasize the importance of the shared mission.


Pope Francis conceptualized his vision asking followers to pray the Holy Spirit would help them rebuild the Church through the blood of Christ, not seeking financial gain or worldly honor (Moynihan, 2013, p. 44). He continually encourages followers to carry out the “sweet and comforting” mission of evangelization – of bringing others to eternal salvation (Ladry, 2014). As the self-proclaimed Caliph, al-Baghdadi reminds followers of their shared mission – to restore the Caliphate to its former glory when the first four successors of Mohammed spread Islam by force. Unlike Pope Francis whose message is acceptance of others, al-Baghdadi preaches anyone who does not accept and follow his radical Sunni form of Islam must die. He encourages use of the same type of justice system used by Mohammed’s successors including death by beheading, stoning, and crucifixion. Although the majority of both Muslims and non-Muslims reject al- Baghdadi’s vision and methods, his message is attracting a number of Westerners who have traveled or tried to travel to Syria to join him.


Inspirational Motivation. This component of the model highlights the ability of leaders “who communicate high expectations to followers, inspiring them through motivation to become committed to and be a part of the shared vision” (Bass & Riggio, 2006, p. 7). These leaders are almost always charismatic and create a compelling and attractive vision of the future (Bass & Riggio, 2013, p. 7).


Pope Francis recently encouraged followers when he stated, “At no other moment in history has humanity had the possibility, as it does now, of building a plural, unified world community” (Callazo & Rogak, 2013, p. 37). Westerners around the world long for peace and prosperity and Pope Francis’ message is inspiring people of all faiths. Leadership expert Margie Warrell (2013) recently wrote about Pope Francis’ appeal noting people long for leaders “who are willing to do what is right above what is easy or politically expedient, and who are not afraid to lay their reputation on the line for a cause and a vision that is vastly bigger than themselves.”


Unfortunately, al-Baghdadi is also willing to do to what he feels is right even to the point of being disowned by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for his land grab in Syria and for fighting Shiites instead of Westerners. Author Andrew Salzman has suggested most of the world has downplayed the extraordinary message al Baghdadi is sending to followers through his declaration of a restored Caliphate (Salzman, 2014). He noted “Western leaders must recognize that calls for the reinstitution of a caliphate might not be cynical subversions of religion for political gain, but actually the product of genuine religious desire; leaders who sincerely view Dr. Ibrahim’s call as a ‘mere manipulation’ of religious sentiment demonstrate their failure to understand the full spectrum of Islamic belief” (Salzman, 2014). In a recent video, al Baghdadi encouraged followers to “Rush O Muslims to your state. It is your state. Syria is not for Syrians and Iraq is not for Iraqis. The land is for the Muslims, all Muslims” (McElroy, 2014).


Intellectual Consideration. Leaders who display this characteristic embolden followers to try new methods, think through issues, and find innovative solutions to problems. They encourage followers to challenge the values of the organization (Northouse, 2012, p. 186). Both Pope Francis and al Baghdadi are considered intellectuals and are highly educated. Pope Francis has a master’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in theology while al Baghdadi has several degrees including a doctorate in sharia law. Both men encourage their followers to engage in creative ways to further their vision.


At first glance, it would appear neither of these men would want people to challenge the values of their organizations. Pope Francis, however, has taken the unprecedented step of requiring church leaders to survey over a billion members worldwide on what they think about various family issues including marriage equality, divorce, and contraception and to then report back (Jenkins, 2013). Earlier this year, he convened a synod in Rome with 250 church leaders to further address these issues. Pope Francis encouraged participants by telling them “God is not afraid of new things” (Dias, 2014). Through this synod, Time Magazine reported “Pope Francis showed the world that he is not afraid of making mistakes. He takes risks, and his commitment to listening allows a host of voices to rise and controversy to surface” (Dias, 2014).


On the other hand, al-Baghdadi also encourages followers to think on their own as long as they do not violate any tenets of the faith as believed by him. He urges followers to resist a watered- down version of Islam and kill those who support doing so. Although it would appear al- Baghdadi does not allow for flexibility, it is exactly this trait which has led to his stunning successes in taking over parts of Iraq and Syria for the Caliphate. He accomplished this by giving his leaders an objective and allowing them to figure out the details on how to achieve it (Anderson, 2014). This is in sharp contrast to the manner in which Western troop leaders carry out missions with higher ups utilizing technology to monitor and “advise.” It also differs from other Middle Eastern armies “where commanders are judged more on perceived loyalty to the leader than on competence” (Anderson, 2014).


Individualized Consideration. This final factor of this transformational leadership model describes the ability of leaders to assist followers in becoming fully actualized (Northouse, 2012, p. 193). This is achieved through coaching and teaching. In the case of Pope Francis, this trait is not only evident in his dealings with groups and the church as a whole, but on a personal level. He has been known to go visit individuals or pick up the phone to provide encouragement and guidance to others. When he received a letter from an unwed mother whose boyfriend wanted her to abort the child, Pope Francis called her and volunteered to be her spiritual counselor and to baptize her baby (Pisa, 2013). In addition to being a transformational leader, Pope Francis clearly has the attributes of a servant leader which fall under this category. He has urged church leaders to join him in healing the wounds of the sick, ostracized, and hurting and said the church should be “a field hospital in battle, a worldwide emergency room of Good Samaritans assisting the Divine Physician in nursing the injured back to health” (Ladry, 2014).


 Within this factor of individualized consideration, once again, there is a great contrast between these two men. Given Pope Francis’ quest for acceptance, grace, healing, and forgiveness; al- Baghdadi’s message of hate and brutality seems anything but considerate. However, al-Baghdad believes his brutality is a means of achieving Allah’s goal for establishment of the Caliphate and full implementation of sharia law. He sees this as a religious obligation for his followers and encourages others to join his cause saying “So raise your ambitions, O soldiers of the Islamic State! For your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue, and are anticipating your brigades” and “Whoever amongst you can migrate to the Islamic State should migrate” (Mu’Minnin, 2014). He truly believes this is a noble cause – that he is freeing other Muslims from oppression.




Leadership expert Peter Northouse (2012) suggested transformational leaders “often have a strong set of internal values and ideals, and they are effective at motivating followers to act in ways that support the greater good rather than their own self-interests” (p. 191). Pope Francis and al-Baghdadi meet this definition despite the vast expanse between their beliefs. They have served as social architects for their organizations, using innovative methods to further their ideology. Both men have displayed the four characteristics of a transformational leader outlined in the Bass and Riggio model.


Time Magazine recognized these characteristics in Pope Francis, naming him Person of the Year for 2013. Fortune Magazine followed suite moving him to the number one spot in their World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. Despite being an almost complete unknown just a few years ago, al- Baghdadi was recently identified as a transformational leader by Transformational Labs, the research arm of Transformational Revenue (Christian, 2014). This was based on an evaluation of sixty transformational leadership characteristics (Christian, 2014). Two men, both transforming the world, one for good and the other for evil.




Anderson, G. (2014, August 12). Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the theory and practice of jihad. The Small Wars Journal. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-and-the-theory-and-practice-of-jihad


Bass, B., & Riggio, R. (2006). Transformational Leadership (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates


Callazo, J., & Rogak, L. (2013). Pope Francis in his own words. (p. 37). Novato, CA: New World Library.


Carter, C., Lister, T., Damon, A., Razek, R., Younes, A., & Tuysuz, G. (2014, July 5). Video emerges of purported militant leader in Mosul preaching holy war. Retrieved November 4, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/05/world/meast/iraq-crisis/


Christian, J. (2014, November 7). Transformational revenue identifies al-Baghdadi as a ‘transformational leader.’ Retrieved November 9, 2014, from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/transformational-revenue-identifies-al-baghdadi- 035400680.html


Dias, E. (2014, October 20). What the synod taught us about Pope Francis: He takes risks. Time. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from http://time.com/3524471/pope-francis-synod-catholic- homosexuality/


Gibson, D. (2014, March 5). Analysis: Pope Francis’ plan for reform: Convert the church. Religion News Service. Retrieved November 4, 2014, from http://www.religionnews.com/2014/03/05/analysis-pope-francis-secret-plan-reform-convert- church/


Grant, M. (2014, August 29). ISIS threat against Pope ‘nothing serious,’ says Vatican. Retrieved October 29, 2014, from http://www.newsweek.com/isis-threat-against-pope-nothing-serious- says-vatican-267583


Gupta, K. (2014, July 8). Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and the rise of ISIS – Analysis. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from  http://www.eurasiareview.com/08072014-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-rise- isis-analysis/


Jenkins, J. (2013, December 11). Pope Francis has done more than you think in 2013. Think Progress. Retrieved from  http://thinkprogress.org/home/2013/12/11/3050681/pope-francis- think-2013/


Ladry, R. (2014, March 9). Pope Francis, the church and the big picture. National Catholic Register, p. A7.


Lanser, A. (2014). Pope Francis: Spiritual leader and voice of the poor. (p. 100). North Mankato, MN: ABDO Publishing Company.


McElroy, D. (2014, July 1). Rome will be conquered next, says leader of Islamic State. Retrieved November 6, 2014, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10939235/Rome-will-be- conquered-next-says-leader-of-Islamic-State.html


Moynihan, R. (2013). Pray for me: The life and spiritual vision of Pope Francis, first pope from the Americas. New York, NY: Image.


Northouse, P. G. (2012). Leadership theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


Pisa, N. (2013, September 13). Single mother says her heart is ‘filled with joy’ after call from pope. Catholic Herald UK. Retrieved from http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/09/06/single-mother-says-her-heart-is-filled-with- joy-after-call-from-pope-francis/


 Salzman, A. (2014, August 4). ISIS: Public legitimacy through the reenactment of Islam’s early history. Small Wars Journal. Retrieved November 6, 2014, from http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/isis-public-legitimacy-through-the-reenactment-of-islam’s- early-history


Sekulow, J. (2014). Rise of ISIS: A threat we can’t ignore. New York, NY: Howard Books. Staklebeck, E. (2014, August 6). See you in New York – Jihadists plans for America. Christian


Broadcasting Network. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2014/August/See-You-In-New-York-Jihadists-Plans-for- America/


Warrell, M. (2013, August 28). Lead from the heart, then the head: A lesson from Pope Francis. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/08/28/lead-from-the- heart-then-the-head-a-lesson-from-pope-francis/

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