Pope Benedict’s management lesson..

I don’t follow the papacy very much, but as Benedict’s sudden resignation has been front page news everywhere, I just finished reading a front page in today’s (14 Feb) IHT/NYT, headlining that he had no choice but to step down, calling him a ‘weak manager.’ That piqued my curiosity. Not a weak leader, but a weak manager.. Hmm..

Curious to see what sort of management challenges he had blundered into, I read on. There was the butler ‘tell all story’, the Vatican Bank accused of associating with money laundering, sex scandals, and so on. I knew of most of those-we all do-but assumed that at 85, with pacemaker, he was simply doing the right thing , stepping down to let others with more energy take the job.

But the article sounded more like Business Management 101.

Benedict’s first missteps were seen as problems of communication. But later…it became clear that the crisis of communications might in fact be a crisis of governance.

But the fatal flaw of his papacy, Vatican experts say, and a leading cause of the scandals and missteps, is that he did not choose the right deputies to run the institution well.

‘The daily running of the shop is in such disarray because he doesn’t consult with anybody’, said Robert Mickens, a Vatican expert for The Tablet, a Catholic weekly based in London.

From the sound of it, it wasn’t his frailty, but not hiring well, along with poor management, poor governance, surrounding himself with those loyal to him, and not taking outside counsel.

I would not be glib enough to compare a 1000 year old institution to today’s business, but only a naif could not see the analogies.

Vatican management lessons:

[list style=”circle”]
  • Do not surround yourself by ranking loyalty above all else.
  • Be assiduously careful how you hire-focus on strengths and results, not personality, nor those who look like you or talk like you. People become weak leaders by hiring weaker support staff.
  • Go out to the market and engage, don’t sequester yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone’s opinions, but visibility in leadership counts much more than a Twitter feed.
  • Communicate with consistent messages, internally and externally. You can’t lead by giving different teams different messages. There is an art-and beauty-to repetition.
  • Good governance is grounded in ethical action, not talk. Act swiftly if your moral compass is pushed too far. People may not like it, but you’re not expected to be liked all the time. Respected for integrity, yes, but uniformly liked, no.
  • [/list]

    From the sound of it, Benedict will be remembered as a good man in over his head, in large because of his team. Don’t make that your legacy.


    Written by Neal Horwitz, President of Henry Hale Maguire


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