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Dear Pope Francis: 4 unsolicited career tips from an exec in the know

Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013, shortly after being elected pope. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

Once the white smoke drifts away, the real work begins for Pope Francis. The conclave of cardinals voted in Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, in two short days. And while the 76-year-old South American isn't exactly an outsider, he is the first pope to come from the Americas. He also inherits a bit of a mess, to put it politely, as multibillion-dollar institutions go – so he may want to consider some advice from non-traditional corners. Since Pope Francis probably won't have time to read her new book, Lean In – though we're certain its on his wish list – here are four unsolicited pieces of advice that Facebook chief operating office Sheryl Sandberg might offer:

1. Be a risk-taker: He has already demonstrated chutzpah in this area by being the first pope to choose the name Francis. Why stop there? At 76 and with only one lung (the other was removed because of an infection when he was a teenager), there's no time to waste. It's true, Pope Francis is an avowed conservative – as Politico reports, he worked hard to try to stop Argentina from becoming the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage. (Although, as Politico also points out, the new pope was also harsh with his criticism of priests in Argentina who wouldn't baptize children born out of wedlock.) But he is in charge now. Taking risks could mean saying he was wrong to call adoption by gay couples "child discrimination." And how about the ordination of women? As Sandberg herself would say, isn't it time to set that gender bias aside?

2. Owning one success is key to achieving success. In these troubled times for the church, the key to getting through this job, as Sandberg would say, is owning any success you have – even if you keep it to your prayers. (Sandberg also advises against gratuitous boasting – treats others as you would like to be treated, she says. Actually, she says, "think personally, act communally," but the message is pretty much the same.) The Vatican bank needs an overhaul, the church's brand is in bad repair and the flock keeps wandering off. Any progress here would be progress.

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3. Don't be shy about sitting at the table. The pope's instincts were good when he was an archbishop in Argentina, fighting for the rights of the poor. He turned down a palace and moved into an apartment. But, listen up, Pope Francis: Those humble days are long gone – you're not just at the table, you are the head of it. You get to live in Vatican City, with open access to the Sistine Chapel, your own Swiss guards and four "guardian angels" to handle the domestic duties. And before you feel guilty about living in such luxury, consider this defence, as explained on, that it's only dutiful care for a senior citizen expected to guide 1.2 billion people in the world. So don't think of sneaking the keys to the Popemobile as stealing – it's all yours.

4. Worry about being liked, but just not too much: This is a complicated one, and even Sandberg is a bit conflicted about it. Sometimes being liked opens doors. Sometimes wanting to be liked closes them. You see? Complicated. Anyway, as the pope, the likeability factor is built in – did you see the crowd waiting for hours for the smoke to turn white? And they were still there, long after Pope Francis had bid them "Buona sera." (Nice touch, that.) But, as time goes on, Pope Francis will have to decide who he wants his fans to be: Which power division in the Vatican? Can he somehow win back the lapsed Catholics in the West who are fed up with the church's position on women's issues and disillusioned by far too many sex abuse scandals, while wooing the conservatives in places such as Africa? The expectations are other-worldly: Like the best female executives do, as Sandberg says, just accept it. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't. Speaking only in secular terms, of course. Where it counts – you're divine.

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More


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