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The Pope and the CEO - John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard

Here's a great book about discovering your personal vocation and how to work towards it. It is written by Andreas Widmer who is both the young Swiss Guard and the not-quite-so-young CEO referred to in the title. This book is simple and short (just 150 pages) but powerful. He engages us with many great anecdotes of the great Pope that illustrate his points and reveal insights into the man’s personality that I was not aware of before.  It was also interesting just to find what a Swiss Guard does (apart from standing still for tourists wearing striped baggy trousers). He builds on these tales with his subsequent experience as a businessman. There are valuable practical lessons for businessmen here, but it is wider reaching than that. It is as much about the realisation of personal vocation (Andreas's happens to be that of a businessman) and so is, potentially, of interest to everyone.

I have written before, here, about how I was inspired to believe that if we have faith enough to believe it possible, that a life of joy and abundance is possible for everyone. Much of what I read confirmed the guidance that I was given, and much adds something new and useful to it.

He describes very well the different types of vocation and how every single person has a personal vocation that offers them a life of joy and fulfilment. Every aspect of our life can be ordered to this calling and ultimately everything is ordered to love of God and our fellows on our final destination of union with God in heaven. It is our joy in the journey that will do so much to attract others to the Catholic life.

What is particularly good is how he tackles head on the question of earthly and material success. So many assume, I think, that we should aim to be as poor as we can and those who are wealthy are somehow less holy.

Widmar presents a different picture. Riches empower us to do what we are meant to do and so some need these things in order to be able to fulfil their vocation. It is a modern day noblesse oblige - the balancing of privilege with responsibility. He stresses how important it is that striving for these things doesn't detract us from our ultimate calling and the wealthier we are, the more important it is to develop detachment through personal discipline and, as mentioned before cultivating a joy in life that ensures that we do not rely on anything other than God to make us happy. If we strive for these things then we can be the example that draws others to the faith.

I enjoyed his explanation of how the spiritual life is not a handicap to business, even in worldly terms but rather, it is an asset. For those whose vocation is to be a businessman (an important qualification) then following the path of holiness in business will tend to encourage the flourishing of that business. If God intends someone to be wealthy, then holiness will increase their chance of success. It will enhance creativity, resourcefulness, efficiency and importantly more competitiveness.

This is contrary to a commonly held view that making money by carrying out the core business activities cannot be harmony with those actions that promote a more caring 'person-centred'' business; and leads to the assumption that a business must necessarily compromise profitability in order to care properly for its employees and customers. The message that I take from Widmer's book (and he speaks with some authority as an experienced and successful businessman) is that when the conduct of the those in the business reflects good values, it will add value to the goods and services offered; and give a company a greater competitive edge.

Widmer stresses need for prudence and guidance in making decisions where the options both seem morally sound. In other words how do I know not just what is good, but what it the best. He gives good advice in facing these situations.

There is perhaps more that could be said on how to improve prudence and creativity so that our actions are in closer harmony with the cosmos and the beauty of the Trinity: and that is through a traditional education in beauty. Also in regard to ordering the different aspects of our personal vocation, it is useful to take into account that man is made to worship God - it is intrinsic to his being. The liturgy is the earthly bridge to the heavenly realm, so if we are seeking to conform anything that we do to our heavenly end, then it will be a great help if liturgical principles come into play. These are small points in the context of the whole book and it's not surprising that they occur to me, as they are my particulary personal interests... so I would say that wouldn't I! So overall this is a great book and strongly recommended.

See more about the book and order a copy at