Monday, April 14, 2014

Did You Hear The One About Libertarians and Grassroots?

As the Conservative Party of Canada proves itself to be increasingly erratic in its management of the country as well as the scandals that have plagued Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office and staff the party has introduced what they have called the Fair Elections Act, a transparent and lambasted effort to suppress voter turnout.  All in all, with Stephen Harper's future subject to increased speculation and his moves drawing more and more criticism.  The arch for the Conservative Party is in descent because the libertarian tendencies that sparked the Reform movement and brought figures such as Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, Rob Anders et al to the national stage are running their course.

The evidence of the government's libertarian tendencies have manifested themselves in the support that they have provided to the oil industry despite the need to cobble together some sort of environmental policy - whether it is motivated by appeasing other world powers, generating some support among environmentally-concerned voters or ultimately making the oilsands and Keystone XL easier for Barack Obama to sell to Americans.

The problem with the libertarian stance is two-fold: 1) the Conservative government is neglecting its role as a player interested in maintain the balance of power between political, economic, religious and other interests and 2) the self-interest that libertarianism fosters is no longer sustainable for the Conservatives at a grassroots level.  

With the unwillingness to use government as a means to maintain a balance of power in Canadian society, the Conservative Party has fostered the belief and the reality that they are favouring corporate elites Italian philosopher Gaetano Mosca articulated a theory of elites that posited that an ideal political system was one that kept the power of the various elites in society from being dominated by any one group.  Given the Conservatives' treatment of the business sector, their disdain for institutions such as the CBC and Canada Post and their own struggles to keep church and state separate, they have done more to further empower the business and religious elites rather than use the resources at their disposal to maintain a balance among the various elites.  

The Conservatives, of course, have made it clear that they wish to make government smaller. However, as the cabinet has mushroomed to sizes of historic proportions and the Senate has been exploited by Harper rather than reformed it is clear that the government no longer is able to indicate a coherent mission.  The advertising campaign for the Job Grants programs seemed more intent - as often seems to be the case with the government - to present the appearance of governance and leadership than the actual thing.  The efforts to build interest and awareness of the War of 1812 and pride in Canadian military history and later cutting veterans' programs and support is one of the more glaring instances of inconsistency hidden behind a veneer of glory or competence.

The second issue with the Conservatives is that with the application of libertarian ideology by this government is the failure to foster community development.  There is less and less pulling Canadians together at this time.  What community development there has been in the country over the last few years has occurred at the municipal level of government and is starting to bring people together in ways that are particular to projects that are of interest to those groups.  Whether it is environmental programming, efforts to support newcomers to Canada, bike paths, car shares or other initiatives people are finding ways to come together in ways despite the regard among libertarians that these things represent too much interference in individual freedom.  While choice is an ideal that people need and have a right to, the Conservatives have exercised that right to an extent that may have disengaged their base.  

With nothing more than self-interest and according to the ideology a desire to do what one pleases holding together the uneasy alliance of the various factions of the Conservative Party, it is easy to see the fissures in the party starting to emerge as people either struggle for the purported heart of the party or opt out entirely.  As more and more Conservatives come away disenchanted with the party's failures to deliver on their promises.  Given the history of the Tories in their various iterations to divide and fall it is likely that they will divide once again under a more moderate leader or marginalize themselves if they believe a further tilt to a Tea Party right.

The Conservatives desire to contain and control their messaging and the people it chooses to involve itself with at the grassroots level may continue to present the appearance of a vibrant committed party but the control of these things have likely kept them from maintaining the grassroots support that contributed to the party's emergence.  In Alberta provincial politics, the mismatch between the grassroots support for Alison Redford and the more right-wing caucus was one of the things cited for her struggles and her resignation.  Despite the endorsements of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, Rob Anders met with a lengthy and futile battle to remain a federal Conservative candidate for the 2015 election.  Will the consequences be similar for Ron Liepert if the party prefers to take the word of Conservatives in Calgary Signal Hill at face value?  

The challenge for libertarians is to create a resilient, sustainable network among the disparate vested interests that have gathered in its small tent.  The more libertarian Conservatives were likely never that capable of or interested in generating an authentic community within the party and they were likely fine with it, but there is a need to recognize the desires of the grassroots members of the party and integrate those into the decisions that the party makes going forward if not for the sake of electoral success, then at least for the reputation of those who support the party. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fighting The Bracketology Mindset

As that annual rite of spring, the NCAA Basketball Championships, unfolds with all its traditions - whether competitive,  obsessive or strategically absent - the one that trumps all is the completion of the tournament bracket.  The interest in the bracket may have had a nudge this year with Warren Buffett's offer of $1 Billion to anyone who successfully completed a perfect bracket - a task with odds of about 1 in 9 quintillion, which would be in striking distance if every man, woman and child completed a billion brackets each.

Easy.  Just predict the outcomes of 63 games when you only know the match-ups for the first 32 of those matches.  Unlike formats for fantasy leagues and other forms of sports gambling, the bracket is centred on a rigid format.  Each decision, binary in its essence, is founded on the consequences of the first round of choices rewarding you with the improved chances of being right or lucky in the subsequent rounds.  The very randomness of the outcomes (and perhaps the matching of the teams) discourages applying knowledge of the participants or a more thoughtful or informed strategy to pursuing a perfect bracket.

Perhaps the sheer randomness of the outcomes in the tournament - something that disfavours "experts" and encourages people to choose on the basis of loyalty, geography, colours and nicknames - is part of the appeal. Millions of participants simply "take a shot" at the perfect bracket.  The experts probably have a better chance of winning a pool and getting the most points in a pool, but the siren song of perfection is probably what lures the casual fan to participate (and saps interest in the tournament at the close of the first weekend.)

But why the binary assessment and the pursuit of perfection?  Is it fair in the instance where the underdog you chose has lost out by a buzzer-beating basket or the human intervention of an outrageous call by a referee that did not go to the technical arbiter of a video review?  Would you want the high stakes outcomes to depend on such factors?!

Completing a bracket is a game.  So why not have a game with high demands if it is going to have large rewards?

In business, however, the ideal would be to have the opportunity to do as much early prototyping as necessary to generate a solution that is comprehensive and integrates all of the factors and feedback that accumulate during those trials.  Admittedly, it might be a bit much to do 63 prototypes, but it would be ideal to adopt a process that allows regular tweaking upon each nugget of feedback rather than going through a long process and being forced to ignore or discard that feedback because it is too late.

The challenge lies in letting go of our arbitrary attachment to such rigid parameters outside of games.  In too many instances in the workplace we rely on choices between stark options and the pursuit of a rigid ideal rather than taking an approach to problem-solving and group thinking that engages the full range of possible solutions or innovations that may be available.  Those more rigid guidelines squelch the opportunity to weigh and work through ambiguities and paradoxes that may daunt us but at the same time are available for consideration and inspiration in the pursuit of innovation instead of mere problem-solving.  The narrowed problem-solving approaches are rendered binary by factors such as technical details or stubborn mindsets that guide, but ultimately limit the possible outcomes of a problem-solving process.

In many instances, a problem-solving response as rigid as the bracket is stillborn, acknowledged upon completion and roll-out to be an incomplete attempt to respond to circumstances rather than vibrant response with the potential to not only solve the problem but achieve more as well.  What a problem-solving response might have in symmetry or geometry, it often lacks in flexibility and receptivity to future change.  Processes that integrate opportunities to innovate and take a more holistic approach will generate responses that reflect the environment and conditions that the organization is dealing with.  The key is to include all of the variables and components of the opportunity that are at stake rather than regarding certain sacred cow parameters as fixed or the context that confine the solution.  That more comprehensive response, the pursuit of innovation will ultimately be the more satisfying response to a problem or an opportunity.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Consequences of Choosing "Out of Touch"

Two news items coming out of the Manning Networking Conference this week have provided a case study for the need of what Norbert Weiner called oppositional complementarity or Neil Postman reviewed to more succinctly as thermostatics.  The consistent issue with the Conservative Party of Canada throughout its history has been the fortress mentality that it has adopted in the face of opposition to its ideology or the consequences of its actions.  Whether it has been the knee-jerk prorogations in the face of looming non-confidence motions or the proposed legislation revising the mandate and powers of Elections Canada as the various scandals surrounding their tactics during the 2011 general election result in charges against members of the government who are a bit less disposable than interns or chiefs of staff, it is clear that the CPC as a whole seems to have little concept of the advantages of a functioning feedback loop.

Instead of responding with compromise, conciliation or a recognition of the reality that they, not to mention all Canadians, have to adapt to, the Prime Minister and the key figures in the front benches have continued to redouble their efforts to remake Canada as a country that we would scarcely recognize.

The feedback that they are getting lately, however, is indicating that this approach to governing is not resulting in the policy outcomes that they would aspire to achieve and it is making re-election seem less likely.  During the Manning Conference, Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan asserted the need for stronger federal policies on the environment as a key component of economic policy.  (I might dare to add that former Environment Minister Jim Prentice expressed a need for stronger environment policy, but mentioning the opinions of a "Red Tory" might actually give one cause to discredit the suggestion. As the Keystone Pipeline debate drags on and Conservatives are left to plead at this point for any response rather than the approval they once expected from the Obama administration, the opinion has been voiced that a stronger environment policy from the Canadian government would have made it easier for Obama to approve the pipeline.  The Conservatives have regarded environmental policy as an inconvenience and are encountering the irony that the absence of a policy is actually a greater impediment.

For all the efforts the government has made to mute, muzzle or ignore informed expert opinion on matters such as Chalk River, food safety and abundance of data that Statistics Canada was once able to glean from the long-form census, it has become clear that the Conservatives' desire to navigate their chosen course without any kind of map is starting to stand in the way of them getting to where they want to go.

After ignoring the counterargument for as long as it has, the Conservatives are rendering themselves increasingly out of touch on the issues and less tolerable an option for the electorate as well.  At this point in the Conservatives' 8-year term in office, it seems more likely that it will strive to go for broke in the pursuit of its "mission" rather than tune into to the feedback that could moderate their approach and perhaps make them a more coherent and effective government.  A change of leadership to someone other than the most apparent dauphins (Kenney, Baird and Moore) seems to be the only opportunity that party may have to shake off its blinders and its apparent anti-intellectualism.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Overbranding

There was a time when the examination of an individual lead to a comparison of one's character and personality, with the former being that substantial aspect that was immutable and personality something that was a tad more fluid and apt to change according to circumstance, comfort or company.  I'm raising this as a means to raise the topic of personal branding which has emerged as a significant complement to character and personality and may even supersede them.  The interest in polishing up our avatars or digital effigies for the social media environment, quite frankly borrows too much from the corporate sector.

In the last decade or so corporate branding has evolved to become a more significant part of a communications strategy.  After generations of a brand's qualities being attributed to it by consumers or fans over the course of time and through the evolution of a product's or company's reputation, the efforts to control or project that brand has lost a degree of authenticity due to the efforts to control and take ownership of a brand and its traits rather than to acknowledge that a brand is a public entity separate from the organization that owns the trademark and creates and builds the product(s) associated with it.

One consequence of the more methodical approach to branding is that organizations have tended to distance their core operations and mission from the brands that they promote and earn their revenue from.  In the case of Proctor and Gamble, the brands they have compete with one another, each projecting their images to targeted audiences to win favour and expand profit margins.  The branding seems to be an even more cynical guise of corporate intentions at Unilever, where the branding for Dove products - with their positive body image approaches targeted at female consumers - stands in stark contradiction to the branding used to pitch Axe products to men.  Corporations are intent to say whatever their appeals to their targeted audiences, but at the same time keep enough distance from their brands that the general public can participate in the dialogue on brand perception or definition when choosing not to buy.


Branding for a corporation is often intended to add complexity to an object or product where none actually exists.  The intention is to take something as simple as soap or a car and entice a consumer to further define their own personality with the product and do so at a premium.

With personal branding it seems that the complexity and range of interests or traits a person can have ought to be simplified and encapsulated to a digestible entity, with perhaps the opportunity to dole out those personal subtleties over time, in a manner that narrows what we are and as with corporate branding, distances a projected image from our character.  Such an approach to presenting an online presence of one sort or another is not without its advantages, but there are too many occasions where our online presence overlooks so much of our essence our character that it never does us justice.  It is ironic that when so much narcissism is attributed to people who are active in social media that profiles - whether via Twitter, Facebook, a blog (or five) or message board - are so much aimed at pleasing others and adapting to the communities one gravitates toward.  The question that I would like to answer is if there is a correlation between the increase in personal branding and the quest to assert a degree of authenticity as well.  The complexities that one creates by with this new online-self-consciousness only emphasizes the artificiality of the process.  It is more ideal to strip down the core of an online presence as much as possible and get to the reality of character.  The more you try to mold or edit out of your virtual presence, the more likely you are to limit the core audience that would follow regardless of the range of expression,

In many ways online presence needs to get closer to that face-to-face persona, which again is based on company, comfort or circumstance.  Bear in mind that an online presence can become rigid in the name of neatness rather than the complex messiness that we are more capable of presenting "live," whether we intend to or not.  At the end of the day, we must find someway to let our character and individuality find expression no matter what the niche of the net we drift into.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Disposable Stadium Game

Turner Field (1996 to 2017)
Business news has become a more significant component of the Sports section and no small part of that gets consumed with the moves that are made because of the financial realities of sports today.  Those realities have resulted in teams leaving town in nearly every major professional sports league and leaving a trail of enmity in their wake.  Those cities that have been out in the cold have been wooed time and again as part of the charade played to force local governments to pony up for a new stadium. The romance of the older buildings that have been discarded or imploded has not been recaptured in the softer seats or the luxury boxes added to the recent facilities and it seems that newer stadia may not get their chance to stand long enough to do so either.

This week's news that the Atlanta Braves would be vacating Ted Turner Field in three years time to relocate to a suburban stadium a full 17 years after the stadium hosted the Olympic Games is a stunning highlight in the parade of stadium stories that have unfolded throughout North America over the last 25-30 years.  Just months after the City of Atlanta approved a $1 billion deal to replace the 21-year-old Georgia Dome with a new stadium with a retractable roof, the insatiable appetite for new stadia met a remarkable new threshold for disposability when the city announced it would raze the Braves' home after they moved out and redevelop the land.  As surprising as this is in light of the short lifespan of Turner Field, Atlanta managed to steer well clear of the controversy that still lingers in Miami surrounding the construction of Marlins Park.

As seems to be the case in many of these stadium developments, public money is used to support these projects regardless of the other needs that governments may need to address, including bankruptcy as may the case in Detroit if plans go ahead to provide the Red Wings with a new arena to replace the 32-year old Joe Louis Arena, which suffers from steep staircases, an unpleasant smell and a humble scoreboard that can't compete with more modern jumbo-trons.  The Red Wings plan is to replace it with a new arena modelled on the old Olympia which it left in favour of the Joe in 1979.  Detroit - having seen the Silverdome (granted in Pontiac, Michigan) dispensed with by the NFL Lions after 26 seasons in favour of Ford Field, which at age 12 must have the Lions planning to consign it to a dust bin any year now - ought to know as well as Atlanta about the new stadium treadmill.

Cities ought to know by now that the stadium game with the major professional leagues is an invitation to hop on the treadmill to bleed their coffers dry.  Apart from the cost of construction of these facilities, there are major extensive renovations, which few teams seem able to bear themselves, despite the revenues they are earning through the facilities.  Despite what would easily be labelled subsidies, franchises show little loyalty to the communities that foot the bill.  In San Francisco, that city's efforts to bid for the 2016 Olympics were dashed when the NFL 49ers set their sights on moving to Santa Clara rather than agreeing to use a new stadium that would have been part of an Olympic bid.

Despite not wanting to stay in the cities that they are named after, the Braves and 49ers remain content to carry those cities' names rather than Cobb County or Santa Clara.  This is not unusual.  Several teams in all of the professional leagues play away from their nominal homes.  The Phoenix Coyotes are based in Glendale, which could be a tome or two unto itself rather than a footnote here, the NFL's Jets and Giants share their home in New Jersey rather than New York, the NBA Pistons are in Auburn Hills and so on.

Cities have to stop falling for the game.  With contraction in each league mentioned as regularly as expansion and perhaps more realistically as the Darwinism of small-market teams grows too bleak to offer much promise to a new franchise in a virgin market, there are fewer viable places for relocation and a greater risk of building a white elephant that ends up abandoned or underutilized, such as Kansas City's Sprint Center, which was opened in 2007 with the yet unfulfilled hopes of attracting a major sports franchise.

As cities and other municipalities buy in to the ratrace of funding these stadia rather than tell their teams that previous arenas managed to serve 60-70 years rather than a few dozen, the partnerships that end in naming rights on these buildings ought to be examined.  Do these teams connect with their cities as deeply as the romantics might believe?  With very few exceptions, the only time a team's connection with its community becomes a mutual one is during a championship run.  Fans devote themselves to the team but the athletes on those teams rarely devote themselves in the same way, unless there has been a hardship as was the case for the New Orleans Saints post-Hurricane Katrina.  In the end, business is business.  Athletes rarely feel accountable to the community they play in and a civic government cannot pressure an athlete or a team to conduct itself properly because of the city name that is on the jersey. Cities have to stop being stooges providing corporate welfare to sports franchises.  Instead, these governments ought to be committing these projects to the same oversights, strategic assessment and lifespan planning that they would any other project to participate in rather than inventing ways to redistribute funds and drum up debentures that would make the project palatable to enough voters to keep in office.  They are fools to presume a new stadium would foster loyalty to the community that makes itself tangible.

What if sponsors invested in naming the team, rather than the stadium?  For decades, stadiums were named for the community they were served or were built by, rather than the highest bidder.  I would propose that sponsors name they team after themselves, as in the Nintendo Mariners or the Time-Warner Braves.  The facade of civic loyalty would be scrubbed away and replaced by a relationship that would elevate the teams' and athletes' accountability.  The sponsors of the Miami Dolphins would be press for a quick intervention in their hazing controversy because of the embarrassment it would bring to their brand.  The sponsors of the Yankees would be keen to distance themselves from Alex Rodriguez. The cities they play in (and nominally for) don't seem to have that kind of stake that a corporate sponsor would have.  It is unlikely corporations would invest as much in the team name as a city would in a stadium, but they would still have more influence.  All the more reason for municipal governments to think twice.  What is the return on the investment?

It is time for cities to put away the childish notions of major league sports making vast contributions to the economy and community life and make more rational decisions in this area.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Veneer Peels

One of the most frustrating things people cited during the debates during the 2011 Federal Election was Stephen Harper's ability or tactic to remain impassive throughout the criticism the other candidates did not try to aim at him.  Instead of responding with an emotional response that may have been merited, he never rose to the challenge or took the bait that was offered when Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff, Gilles Duceppe or Elizabeth May excoriated his policies.  Under those hot lights and pressure he impressed his base with his calm and steadiness.  For those who may have been aggravated by his approach and his resolve, he did not care.  Harper has always known who his base has been and what has been required for him to gain a majority government.

The same could be said of the control with which he has interacted with the media.  There have been limits on the number of questions and probably an apocryphal counting of "Would you like me to repeat that Mr. Harper?" as one of the quota for each press "availability."  Throughout his public life, the introverted man has never possessed comfort and openness with the media of other political figures of this generation.  This in itself is not a fault of Mr. Harper's that I wish to take issue with.  However, the efforts to add some warm and fuzzy to Mr. Harper have often failed to strike the desired chord with the Canadian public.  This is not to say that Harper needs to be a gladhander or an effusive figure to capture the imagination of interest of the Canadian people.  None of Paul Martin, Joe Clark, Stephane Dion nor Thomas Mulcair have presented themselves particularly charismatic figures but all of them interacted with a degree of integrity and were willing to take their hits on the political trail.  The efforts to stage manage the Prime Minister's presence with the blue sweater and the strict control of messaging and the strict avoidance of settings (the United Nations) or questions (the environment) that would put him in an uncomfortable situation or bring sharper scrutiny to the policies or platform of the Conservative Government.

It is largely unknown whether there is any telfon to Stephen Harper.  The reality may simply be that in the polarized political environment of the last ten years, he has been aware that a relatively small component of the electorate could be swayed one way regarding his performance as prime minister and his may not worry a whit about those who are not going to be swayed.  The issues that have most threatened the Prime Minister have been diverted rather than averted through prorogations or other maneuvers.   Controversies over military spending, Afghanistan and the environment have been evaded rather than faced and it is hard to tell if this government has the resilience to withstand a scandal.  There has to be a point though where the base that he has been able to count upon to this point of his career may start to erode or grow weary of the routine or the speaking points.

The aversion for moving away from those speaking points to acknowledge the issues that raise questions of Stephen Harper's fallibility has been demonstrated time and time again throughout the Prime Minister's term in office.  Throughout it all there has been the insistence that all is well with the government, its direction, the country's standing and sense of itself and above all Stephen Harper's leadership.  Whenever a question is raised the argument is raised - vociferously - that a conspiracy by the media has been hatched to make the government look bad or that the intransigence of the opposition has been the issue that has stood in the way of efficient decision-making and creation of legislation in the House of Commons.  All the while, however, it has been a matter of the Conservative Party of Canada striving to strictly serve their interests, the interests of their constituency of voters or the topics and ideology that the government has the competence to deal with.

The ongoing assertion by this prime minister and his government throughout their reign that they have done little or no wrong has weakened the legitimacy of this government with each scandal that it has refused to acknowledge or face the music for.  Cabinets have been reshuffled, chiefs of staff in the PMO have come and gone, as have communications directors but their has been little interest in adapting policy or messaging to respond to the concerns and interests of those beyond the minority of the population that they have managed to maintain some semblance of favour with.  The refusal to accept the consequences of fallibility to this point has kept the dialogue in Ottawa from ever losing the toxicity that has been part of the decorum for the past decade.  Experiencing some significant political damage from some scandal rather than avoiding it and/or preemptively bullying the opposition would have given the Conservatives the credibility of governing out of a desire to implement policy rather than merely have power for its own sake.

Ultimately though, the focus has been keeping up appearances and the Duffy scandal has escalated to the proportions it has because of the effort to sweep things under the carpet.

The explosion of the Duffy scandal with the allegations made in the Senate on October 22 has further undermined the credibility of a government that has chosen to address a narrow range of the nation's concerns and interests and glossed over the issues that it has neither the competence or the appetite for.  Cutting the GST may have been popular but it was unnecessary.  Addressing environmental concerns would have required sacrificing political capital as well, but they did not have the will to undertake this bit of heavy-lifting.  The long-standing insistence to ignore rather than respond to the more significant challenges have, throughout the Harper era, effectively sealed off his government with the stimulus and opportunities for his government to respond to the nation's needs and demonstrate their competence and legitimacy.

As this government continues its decline, it will become increasingly apparent that it has been more out of touch than any of the enemies that it has wished to wipe from our history's pages.  As the government becomes increasingly divided and disarrayed it will look more and more like the graphic conclusion that faced Dorian Gray.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Authentic Pope

When Pope Benedict abdicated this past February, one of the things he intimated was that the job had become too substantial for him to continue doing, given his age and declining health.  When Pope Francis was elected in time for Easter a few weeks later, the details about his own health, he had lost part of a lung earlier in life, and his age left some wondering if he was ging to be up to the demands of the task, especially when faced with the challenges the Vatican or the Roman Catholic Church - depending on how you might parse either entity - have been grappling with.  The ongoing issues with sex abuse scandals, the Vatican Bank, declining clergy were just a few of the matters that made Joseph Ratzinger wave the white flag and step away from public life.

Ratzinger, given the nickname the "German Shepherd" after he was elected, never came across as a particularly endearing figure to the faithful.  Perhaps it was the challenge of succeeding someone as iconic as Pope John Paul II that made this particularly daunting, but there were decisions and statements throughout his tenure that seemed to indicate an all-costs commitment to the established doctrine of the church on matters such as female priesthood and the primacy of the Catholic faith over all others.  Those moments or decisions kept him from earning the support and trust of the Catholic faithful.  This is not to suggest that leading a church ought to be done with an eye to achieving popularity or that the doctrines of a church ought to be altered for strategic reasons or with an eye on more tangible measures of success.

Ratzinger began his career as a more liberal or reformist figure in the church, but as a consequence of confrontations with those who disagreed with him retreated into a more insular position and a less flexible, more dogmatic interpretation of the church and its relationship with its faithful.  Throughout his term he seemed to adopt a rigid position and was unwilling to acknowledge the changes that were occurred and move away from the apparent intellectual safety he had sought throughout his career until he was elected Pope in 2005.

Pope Francis in sharp contrast to Benedict has been affable, accessible and accountable to those he has been in service of.

From the outset, Pope Francis has made a point of being accessible to the public, whether it has been taking the bus with the other cardinals after the conclave in March, continuing to live in the humble apartment he has in Rome, his comments on atheists, blessings for Harley riders, forays into the congregations when he has traveled or the notes he has sent to those who have mailed him, he has avoided the isolation and remoteness of Benedict's papacy.

Francis' affability has been much lauded.  A introvert by nature, Francis has quickly grown into his public role and perhaps even been energized by it.  His watershed moment when talking about his feelings on homosexuality in July has marked a significant change of tone from his predecessors when he simply stated, "Who am I to judge?" was a move that might be considered a populist move, but it is much more consistent with the principles that motivated him to wash the feet of prisoners during Holy Week, his comments on atheists and other gestures and comments that have indicated a more inclusive approach to the papacy, an approach that would recall Christ's own actions and teachings.

Time and again though, it is that humility, common touch and frequent contact with ordinary people that creates a further degree of accountability that he would encounter by being closer to the street rather than in an ivory tower.  Francis seems willing to answer all questions, to integrate his conservative stand on Christian doctrine into a sensibility that he has brought him significant goodwill and energized the Catholic faithful over the first six months of his papacy.  Francis' greatest strength has likely come from that willingness to engage with anyone and be available to them.  When you are regularly making yourself available to taxi drivers, cooks, and people of all ages and backgrounds, it is easy to keep rooted and practical rather than seeking a more intellectual and rarified approach to matters of faith.  Francis' willingness to make himself accessible and engage in dialogue with anyone and everyone has also enhanced the authenticity with which he has borne his cross or conducted his service over the last seven months.  In that combination of affability, accessibility and accountability is an example of leadership that could serve as a textbook example of authentic, transparent leadership.