The Pope And Leadership

Less than 10 days ago Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world with his staid, yet stunning, announcement of his resignation, effective at the end of the month.

During a routine meeting, the 85-year-old leader read a prepared statement to a group of cardinals, saying, “ … before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of leading the population of one billion Roman Catholics worldwide, according to The New York Times.

While a definite stigma has accompanied the surprise resignation, as the last time a pope stepped down was 600 years ago, did Benedict XVI actually set an example for all leadership?

My vote is yes; when it’s your time, bow out gracefully.

Organizations and their leaders evolve. Many times, they do so independent of one another. A leader may begin to lose his or her motivation, influence, or energy. A company can go through challenging phases that the current leadership isn’t equipped to manage (an industry disruption, bankruptcy, or even  just trying to keep up with a high-demand product). If a person believes that he or she is doing a disservice to the organization by remaining in a leadership role, it is honorable to step aside. The key is managing expectations of the future success of the organization. This is normally done by providing clear succession planning and direct communication to staff and other stakeholders.

As noted in an interview with leadership historian Nancy F. Koehn in the Harvard Business Review, “Pope Benedict XVI is someone who has probably looked himself in the mirror and looked at his predecessors — no one else has done this — and said, ‘For me, I need to do this. Because I’m taking an honest look at my physical and mental and spiritual balance sheet, and I don’t have enough assets right now.’

“In some ways, it’s an act of great responsibility,” Koehn said.

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