The 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival included a panel discussion on the topic of “The Church of Pope Francis.” At the beginning of the discussion, Nancy Gibbs, editor of Time magazine, calls Pope Francis the world’s “most credible” leader. She asserts his acts of public humility continue to help return the Roman Catholic Church to a role of advocacy on behalf of the poor and underrepresented.
By choosing the word “credible” to distinguish Pope Francis, Gibbs effectively makes the argument that most of today’s world leaders lack this attribute. And based on recent events it’s easy to understand her pessimistic conclusion. From the VW emissions scandal to continued probes of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration to reports of fiscal stress in Monroe County, few organizations can claim a record that would suggest any measure of credibility.
In effect, credibility provides a compelling “white space” for politicians, business and community leaders. “White space,” an increasingly used term within business and marketing, describes an untapped area for organizations, businesses and individuals to differentiate themselves from their competition. Unfortunately, most leaders in business and politics lack the type of record that would lend itself toward this aim.
Instead, both consumers and citizens are left with the poor alternative of “grey space” — rich in rhetoric and low in unbiased facts or measurable proof points. The deficit of credible leaders is largely the result of a broader institutional failure among political, economic and social systems ill-equipped to hold people, practices and policies accountable. Checks and balances built upon past standards lack the agility needed to respond to contemporary issues, which leaves little incentive for today’s elected officials, corporate leaders or other community stakeholders to commit to a path toward credibility.