Pope Francis I’s First Moments: Matching Word and Deed

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The world was witness to a remarkable series of events today with the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the head of the Roman Catholic Church as Pope Francis I.  Just two days ago, I reflected on leadership lessons culled from past popes, here.  I’d like to extend those remarks, focusing on the leadership notes that played out in my eyes in Francis I’s first moments as a world figure – in which he succeeded brilliantly, I believe, in matching word with deed (any leader’s most telling task).

Setting a Tone
Biographical reports on the new pope universally remark on his humble nature – regularly avoiding the trappings of his office as cardinal by taking public transportation to work, and living in his own apartment instead of the bishop’s palace.  This humility came through loud and clear in his first action – choosing to wear a simple, wood cross instead of an ornate, bejeweled one.  Most tellingly, before he gave his first blessing, he humbly asked for the crowd’s prayers and blessing on him, that he might be strengthened by those he will lead – servant leadership of the simplest but most powerful order.  (Wishing the crowd a “good night and a good sleep” in the manner one would speak to an old friend or family member was a simple and endearing moment of the same nature).

Drawing in Your Flock
Putting aside the worldly powers of the papacy, it is – in its essence – a spiritual role, meant to draw the faithful to God.  Rather than offering a sermon or Continue reading

On the Papal Conclave’s Eve: Leadership Notes from the Past

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John Paul II proclaimed, “Be not afraid.” Ronald Reagan spoke of “a city on a hill.” Both teamed up to stare down communism, backing strong words with resoluteness.

Having had the good fortune of studying in Rome as an undergrad, I recall with sweet fondness standing in the shadow of Bernini’s great colonnade many a time to see  Pope John Paul II bless the crowds from his window overlooking St. Peter’s square. Now, I wait with eagerness along with billions of Catholics and other interested observers worldwide to see the white smoke emerge and a new pope step out to greet the world.  As we wait, I have been reflecting on events from recent papacies that speak to leading organizations of all sizes.

The Unexpected

When the former Angelo Roncalli became Pope John 23rd at the age of 77 in 1958, few expected the portly unknown cardinal to be anything more than a “caretaker,” keeping the papal seat warm for a few years and not doing much else.  No one foresaw the seismic shift he was soon to usher in with the simple but dramatic calling of the conference (known as Vatican II) which more than any other single event brought the Church into the modern age.

  • Lesson: Sometimes one simple but profound, singular leadership decision can change everything – shaping and re-setting all prior agendas.

Bestriding the World Stage

If no one anticipated John 23rd’s actions as pope, even fewer predicted Karol Wojtyla’s election as the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years.  From the very first moment of his introduction in 1978, though, the then 58-year old Continue reading

Failing to Prepare the Ground

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Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house.
Proverbs 24:27

I’ve recently been observing a business saga that I fear isn’t destined to end well.  Sam, a sales and product development director, is preparing to submit an exciting new product proposal to his company.  If accepted, it could transform a significant aspect of company operations and further enhance its industry-leading standing.  Unfortunately, I believe Sam’s proposal is likely to be rejected for, as ground-breaking as his concept is, he has failed to prepare the ground so that the project might be accepted, take root, and bloom.

The Good

Sam’s idea represents the culmination of years of blood, sweat, and tears to understand and serve the needs of his customers.  The concept addresses their needs in a way that gives both his customers and his company a platform for growth and collaboration, and it pushes the state of the art in their field forward by several steps.

The Bad

The success of the venture depends heavily on a partnership with another organization.  However, the leadership of Sam’s company has a very negative Continue reading

Pope Benedict’s Resignation: Leadership Lessons in Humility

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(Disclosure: As a practicing Catholic, I have a deep affection for Pope Benedict.  However, people of any or no faith tradition should read on without trepidation, as this post focuses solely on leadership issues, not religion or dogma).

This morning’s announcement that Pope Benedict was resigning the papacy for health reasons absolutely stunned me, as it did the rest of the world.  Still taking in the impact of this historic event — something that hasn’t happened in 600 years — a few initial leadership lessons come to mind. While a pope has many roles (as a head of a Church, head of state, and world figure), in secular terms, each role can be reduced to one simple but powerful word: leader.  Here’s what I believe his resignation teaches.

  • Some things don’t need outside counsel
    The fact that even his closest aides didn’t have a hint of his pending resignation indicates the depth of conviction that he felt about his decision.  “Unto thine own self be true,” we’re advised.  In this case, the truth was clear to him, and he acted decisively, with clarity of purpose and (I imagine) clarity of mind and heart.  When clarity is present so strongly, no outside deliberations are necessary to provide “cover” or comfort—clarity is the comfort.
  • It’s not all about you
    By canon (church) law, the pope has the right to preside over the Church until his death.  As a world class theologian, no one would be more fully aware than this pope of the unprecedented nature of his resignation and how it might affect his place in history.  In this act, though, he has chosen to place the needs of the many — leadership of more than 1.2 billion faithful — over his personal, ego needs.In a statement, the pope said in order to govern “…both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.” In doing so, he put the good of his organization — of a size and scope that requires active, day-to-day leadership, especially during these complex modern times — ahead of himself.
  •  Set up the next guy for success
    Perhaps the most startling part of the announcement for me was the date of the resignation (two weeks from now).  As a colleague noted with great surprise, this has him stepping down in the middle of the holiest and most important season in the Church calendar (Lent) — setting up a most unusual Lenten Conclave of Cardinals to select his successor.Few would have blamed him for “hanging on” a month longer, so that he might have the satisfaction of leading one more season of Easter services. With this timing, though, the pope has guaranteed that his successor will greet the world at the most sacred and impactful of moments — the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday — thus launching the new pope forward to put his own stamp on his nascent papacy from the very first moment.

In organizations, major change can sometimes occur at unexpected moments—and with great change comes opportunities for (and insights into) leadership.  The impact of Pope Benedict’s decision will be assessed in the days, and months, and decades to come.  Today’s immediate lesson for me is the power that acts of humility can have on our organizations and ourselves.  If we know our own hearts, and look to the needs of others, we will lead through service, for the greatest good.

Promotions That Change Lives

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A close colleague recently received a well-deserved promotion, and I am thrilled for her and her manager.  I believe that this sort of thing – “promotion” in the very best sense of the word – has the power to change careers … and lives.

Why Promotions Matter

It’s always nice to get a raise (more money) or a promotion (a loftier title and/or higher-level job responsibilities), of course.  But I find that when done thoughtfully and purposefully, it can be much more than a “nice to have” or a brief shot-in-the-arm for morale purposes.  In my friend’s case, the promotion:

  • Showed her that she and her contributions were valued by the organization
  • Gave her increased standing and confidence to interact with clients, colleagues, and vendors on a more equal footing as professional peers
  • Changed her own thinking about what future steps her career might hold in store —what possibilities could become realities for her
  • Increased her already strong appreciation for her manager, knowing that he had gone to bat for her when he didn’t have to
  • And, in part that she’s not aware of yet, the promotion sets her up for other jobs (inside and outside the company) for which holding her new title/level is an unstated (but very real) requirement.

In the manager’s case, the promotion demonstrated: Continue reading

Rebuilding Relationships

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At a recent business dinner, the conversation was lively, the atmosphere cozy, and the mood light, as someone rose with glass in hand. “I’d like to offer a toast to Patty, for the terrific way that she has supported us this past year.”  Looking over the clinking of glasses and the round of warm congratulations sat an embarrassed but clearly gratified Patty.  This simple scene represented the culmination of a years-long journey to rebuild tattered relations between the groups present — and therein lies our story.

The Back Story

For more than a decade, relations between marketing and one of the lines of business had been frayed, sometimes to the breaking point—reflecting in large part the contentious relationship between the heads of both groups. Words like toxic, angry, skeptical, uncommunicative, antagonistic, and the like could be used to describe the tone between the groups at various points.  How did things move from this paralyzed state of affairs to the happy dinner scene above?  In a word, hard work—a series of steady, persistent actions over the course of years.

Lessons Learned

Several steps — some intentional, some happenstance — served to break the logjam and help move the relationship between the groups forward.

  • Change in Players—The first key event was the departure of the marketing head (for reasons unrelated to this situation).  The hard feelings between the two heads had become so entrenched that no Continue reading

Building Confidence

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We’re all familiar with the idea that part of a leader’s job is to build up the confidence of employees in the organization — particularly those just starting out in their careers.  A recent experience reminded me, however, that sometimes we also need to build up the confidence of those who we assume are already very confident: executives and other accomplished professionals.

When Things Get Overwhelming

I had the privilege of facilitating a two-day planning meeting for a group of executives contemplating a rather ambitious project: developing a training academy and certification program that would become the standard in their industry.  Working diligently in a very pleasant conference facility in the Arizona desert, the team soon had several whiteboard’s full of potential curriculum designs and course outlines spread around the boardroom.  As we did a brief re-cap before dinner, I was quite struck by the group’s reaction.  As each person took in the array of courses and materials noted on the boards, they vocalized a reaction I wasn’t expecting: they felt a bit overwhelmed.

I was quite startled by this.  The participants were all very accomplished in their field and prominent leaders in their respective organizations.  And yet, even for Continue reading