Tag Archives: humility

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

C21607-11A

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

Pope Benedict’s Resignation: Leadership Lessons in Humility

pope_benedict_sitting-759001

(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.

Lin-sanity, The Kid, and the Value of Connectors

Jeremy Lin -- the "connector" -- celebrates with teammates and fans

Two of the biggest stories in the sports world in recent weeks have been the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the passing of Gary Carter.  Though unrelated, these two events have re-emphasized for me the value of “connectors” –  those people (in both sports and all organizations) who somehow “connect” the people and change the game (and the atmosphere) in  important ways.

“Lin-sanity”

Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks’ new point guard, has gone from an unknown reserve on a faltering team to literally a worldwide sensation in less than two weeks.  When the season began on Christmas Day, Lin was sleeping on his brother’s couch.  By Valentine’s Day, Lin – an undrafted free agent from Harvard, who had recently been cut by two teams and was hoping for a spot on a minor league roster when signed by the desperate Knicks – was serving as an inspirational role model for children around the world (he is one of the few NBA players of Taiwanese descent).

How did this happen? As a point guard, Lin’s job is to get the ball to his teammates in places and at times when they have the best chance of making plays and scoring.  Simply put, he “connects” his teammates – a skill that is vital for successful teams in sports as well as in business.  Add in his can-do spirit, the energy he brings onto the court, and his humility, and you have something very special in the works.  End result:  The Knicks have gone from an 8-15 record and sports writers openly betting on when the coach would be fired to a team focused on the playoffs (with some giddily speculating whether a championship run might even be possible for them).

“The Kid”

Gary Carter's ability to connect teammates led to a dramatic World Series victory in 1986

While post-steroid era baseball may not be “America’s Past-Time” in quite the same way it used to be, there’s no doubt that Gary Carter was an All-American sports hero.  A Hall of Fame, power-hitting catcher for 19 seasons, Carter’s position enabled him to serve as a “field general” behind the plate, and his upbeat personality and strong will to win enabled him to be a leader off the field.

In the many eulogies offered on his passing last week at the age of 57 from brain cancer, there was constant reference to the role Carter played as the “last piece of the puzzle” (literally, a “connector”) when he came to the New York Mets in 1985 – leading them to a World Series championship a year later. He was recognized as the glue that held a very talented but rowdy bunch together, from guiding a young pitching staff through rough spots with patience and care, to – determined not to make the final out – getting the hit that started the Mets’ miraculous game-winning rally in a contest known simply in New York sports lore as “Game Six.”  In short, he “connected” his teammates and helped the whole become so much more than the sum of the parts.

 Business: Connectors and Dis-Connectors

It strikes me that in thriving organizations of any size or scope (from 6-person departments to major divisions of global corporations), there is often a person (or persons) who serve as connectors – who through their skills, presence, and personality serve to bring the group together and help everyone “raise their game.”  Two examples (one positive, one negative):

  • Dysfunction — I once interviewed with the HR department of a division of a Fortune-500 company where – strikingly – there seemed to be absolutely no connection (business, emotional, or otherwise) between any member of the HR team … so much so that the word “team” could scarcely be used.  This extended to the HR VP – an otherwise affable and bright person who was proud to share that he had absolutely no idea what anyone on his team was doing at any point in time (no joke!).  Boy, did that team need a “connector”!
  • Connection — I currently work with a colleague who is absolutely, intuitively brilliant in her ability to bring people together.  With very little fanfare and no one really noticing until after the fact, she regularly brings teammates into her projects in ways in which they can add the most value, expand their contacts, serve the client’s best interests, and play to their strengths – win/win scenarios, to say the least.  (In basketball parlance, she gets people the ball in positions where they can score).  She is a true “connector,” and the team – and the organization — is truly strengthened for it.

Implications

In hiring for, coaching, and developing teams at all levels of our organizations, it seems to me that “connectors” are vital for success.  What are your thoughts?