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
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.
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
Posted in Courage, Excellence, Hopefulness, Leadership, Servant Leadership
Tagged Catholic Church, decisive, humility, Leadership, Pope John Paul II, resolute, Rome, Ronald Reagan
Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house.
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.
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 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
(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.
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
Do you have employees who you are penning into a limited role — but whose skills and background (if not current position) enable them to contribute great things to your organization, if only “discovered” and given the chance to excel?
An under-employed friend recently shared her frustration at not being permitted to contribute at the level which she is capable. Empathizing with her plight (one that is shared by millions), I wonder whether companies need to attend more directly to this post-recession phenomenon. Is there a way to unleash the potential of this vast untapped reservoir of talent, energy, and ideas?
Point of Reference: The Survey Says
While pondering this, I noticed that SHRM’s latest national job satisfaction survey included a shocker. For the first time, “opportunities to use skills and abilities” displaced job security (63% to 61%) as the most important aspect of job satisfaction. The bottom line: we want to be secure, but even more than that, we want to be fulfilled in our work. President Kennedy once defined happiness as “the full use of one’s talents along lines of excellence.” In this way, we all want to be “happy.”
Recognize These People?
Do any of these folks work at your company?
- MBA-educated customer service rep—She has fifteen years of prior professional experience, but when she makes process improvement suggestions, she’s told “We tried that once and it didn’t work” (with the unstated subtext being, “Besides, managers make those kind of decisions here”).
- Non-degreed manager—You’re happy to have him managing the day-to-day HR affairs of your large retail operation (keeping you out of expensive lawsuits on a daily basis)—but when it comes to managing a high-visibility nationwide project, those are tacitly reserved for designated “high potential” (degreed) junior executives only.
- Receptionist-Playwright—Did you know that your friendly receptionist spent a dozen years as a budget analyst and project manager for a major bank and, in her spare time, is a playwright who founded and leads her own non-profit, community theatre group?
If so, you may have individuals who are vastly under-employed—i.e., highly under-utilized assets.
So, what can be done? Each company and individual circumstance is different, of course —but just using the three examples above, how would it improve your organization’s performance if …
- You sought out the MBA-educated customer service rep, let her know that you appreciated her process-improvement suggestions, and you wanted her to keep them coming. Separately, you ensure that the status-quo manager changes their tune and opens up to change in no uncertain terms.
- You realize that you’ve advertised a senior HR director role for months without success—all the while possibly having an ideal candidate in-house. You loosen the degree requirements, focus on who can truly do the job, and invite the non-degreed HR manager in for a serious interview / career planning discussion.
- You’re reorganizing a chronically under-performing department and are about to advertise for a project manager to lead the effort. Then, you remember the receptionist’s background and wonder if this is the sort of thing she has done in a past life. When she jumps at the opportunity and hits the ground running, you smile in satisfaction (and relief at finally solving the problem).
With managers at all levels just as overwhelmed as their employees—having little time to think deeply about the latent skills, talents, and experience of their employees—the “what if” above might strike some as unrealistic. But what if it’s not? It might just take some time and a commitment to dig a little deeper to see answers that might be right in front of us.
Posted in Employee Relations, Encouragement, Happiness, Leadership, Talent Management
Tagged bosses, Employee engagement, Excellence, Happiness, Human Resources, Leadership, Motivation and Rewards