Papal Transition Power: Leadership Lessons of the Vatican

By | February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI resigned this morning – the first Pope to do so since 1415.  The papacy is one of a few positions with the expectation of service for life – Supreme Court Justices comes to mind as the other. Perhaps serving as Pope in the same lifetime as Pope John Paul II (credited with a leadership role in ending Communism in Poland and throughout Europe) sets a precedent for being newsworthy.  And this Pope certainly fit the bill.  This Pope has had a lot of firsts – he is the to resign since the 1400s, the first to use social media (although I’d like to think John Paul II would have – if he can ski he can tweet!) and the first (that I know of) to demonize Catholic Nuns, whose Nuns on a Bus movement struck a real chord with me.

In the coming days and weeks, there will undoubtedly be coverage and analysis of the papal selection process.  For those who aren’t familiar, the Cardinals retire behind locked doors in Rome, pray, reflect and vote by secret ballot until a unanimous successor is selected, with the results of each vote communicated to the world with the release of smoke: white smoke signaling that a new Pontiff has been chosen.  (Two popes died while I was in grammar school, so I remember the good Sisters teaching us about this process almost as clearly as I remember the two extra days off from school to commemorate the solemn occasions.)

Whether you believe in Divine intervention of the Pope, or not, Catholic, or not, it is hard to argue that the position of Pope carries enormous influence and great challenges – it requires leadership of one of the largest, wealthiest, most diverse, most geographically dispersed organizations in the world.  What can leaders of any organization learn from the Papacy?

  1. Effective leadership begins with clarity of purpose – whether you are selling software, building cars or practicing law, good leaders have clarity of purpose. And what you do isn’t a purpose.  Why you do it, and ultimately how you do it, elevates a “to do list” into a true purpose.  Focus on what, why and how. That clarity of purpose often translates into an organization’s shared values – an approach that may be easier for a religion than a business – but a valuable one, all the same.
  2. Consensus has value – to most of us, the idea of a unanimous decision seems impossible. Isn’t that why we need a leader?  To make the decisions in the absence of agreement?  While this is true, never underestimate the value of building consensus.
  3. Down time matters – Who among us isn’t overscheduled? I imagine that one of the great advantages of the Papacy is that scheduled time for celebrating Mass and prayer is built into the schedule. This time for reflection is vital for good decision making.
  4. Never underestimate the value of face time – the worst time I ever had leaving our building across from the Meadowlands wasn’t due to a sporting event or a concert. It was when the Pope came to the stadium.  It was gridlock, all day.  A CEO sighting should not be as rare as a papal audience – and your employees shouldn’t have to crowd into the proverbial square to see you.
  5. You really can (and should) get social – the data is overwhelming. The opportunity to be a leader among CEOs in adoption of social still exists.  If the Pope and the President can do it, so can you. (BTW, check out this infographic on Churches and social media)

 

 

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