Applauding the Pope: Some Leadership Lessons

Some leadership lessons emerged, at least for me, from the Pope’s announcement he was resigning from this high and sacred office. This is a lifetime office, as we know from its history, but Pope Benedict XVI’s took the route that was last taken 600 years ago (actually 598) by Gregory XII in 1415. While I do not know all the details of Benedict’s resignation (and we probably can never know all the details), I believe there are some leadership lessons embedded in this decision.

The Pope says he is resigning for health reasons and fatigue: This is a lesson for all of us. We should pay attention to our bodies and know when it is time to leave our current assignments. When our energy begins to fail, as the Pope noted, then we are not able to give our best thinking and abilities to the assignment at hand. All humans wind down. Sensing and acknowledging that our time is coming to an end is a high degree of emotional intelligence. Those who remain robust and vibrant into their 90s who we celebrate and tout in the media are not the norm. And if you don’t believe that is the case, you haven’t visited a nursing home in awhile.

The wisdom of knowing it is time to resign: I’ve witnessed it and so have others when a person hangs on to a leadership role when they really should step aside. Pope Benedict XVI is demonstrating wisdom in knowing he can no longer oversee the duties of the office. How many times have we watched a leader hang on to the office without forethought of its demands? There is wisdom in this act by knowing when one is no longer able to function adequately in the role assigned to them in a more youthful moment.

The third session for me has to do with the courage: It’s been 598 years since the last Pope resigned. That’s a long tenure of tradition. And the length of tradition can cause us to make unwise decisions….to preserve the office and not the institution. The Pope understands he is not the person to lead the 1 billion member Catholic church forward, so is courageous enough (and humble enough) to know that the time is right for him to step down.

Finally, the last leadership lesson is one of deep concern for the institution: It is easy to place one’s role as a leader above the mission and future of the organization. An effective leader understands when they are no longer able to guide the institution forward in dealing with issues and complexities of the assignment. Often, we know of those who stay well after their time is ended technically, but continue to push on as if nothing is wrong. We call them lame duck…holding a position but ineffectual in doing anything productive. The phrase “lame duck” has its origins, however, from the London stock exchange of 1771 where a person who is “lame duck” cannot pay their debt. In a sense, the Pope and leaders who stay past their ability to perform the assignment are no longer able to pay the debt for the demands of the job. There is wisdom and courage that reminds a person when it is best to leave for the sake of the institution than to become a debtor where staying diminishes the legacy and hamstrings the ability of the organization to function effectively (hamstring which by the way means” to render useless”).

I admire Pope Benedict XVI as a leader in this final act. He has demonstrated for us what must go into every leadership decision when the transfer of power comes. A leader does not have to be 85 to make that decision. It may happen when they are 65, 70, or 55. Many signs will start to appear for a leader and I believe the emotionally intelligent will make the right decision even though it does not seem the best from those looking in from the outside.

Blessings to you Pope Benedict XVI and all those wise leaders who follow your example.

When Our Paths Cross

Driving Indiana State Road 15 put me into an emotional intelligence state of mind where I began listening to what was happening inside of me.  It was a trip that made me aware of my feelings about the place I lived, life in general, and how I should share it in the day-to-day.

My destination was Silver Lake but more specifically Yellow Creek Lake.  Silver Lake was much like all I had experienced already on the northern drive.  Established in 1859, Silver Lake sits at a crossroads—old three story buildings watching over a four-way stop intersection where east and west meet north and south. It is a crossing point where small town folks buy flowers and the whiteboard easel next to the door of the café street entrance simply reads, “Welcome.”

That seemed to be the way most of my drive had been over the hour of travel.  I witnessed a lot that caused me to reflect—to listen to my emotions in that solitary drive, devoid of any sound save the constant hum of the car’s air conditioner.  I passed little towns at crossroads, too.  Little places like “Treaty,” “LaFountaine,” or signs pointing off to distant locales like, “Jalapa.”  At these intersections were gaggles of older homes, mixed with attempts at commerce, to invite the passerby to stop and “sit a spell.”

There were also signs that directed people to churches like “Jalapa Bethel Brethren” or “Olive Branch Church of God;” places where people experienced home each Sunday and Wednesday.  Then there was “Restaurant.”  That’s it, just a diner called, “Restaurant” in four foot tall, neon light outlined letters.  I couldn’t find a sign for the actual name, but it didn’t matter.  The parking lot was filled; the tiny building with big windows was ringed with cars and trucks because patrons know that the food is good and the conversation is plentiful.

The land is wide open in this area of Indiana.  Acres of soybeans and corn that is currently shin high—“knee high by July.”  There were also open, freshly plowed fields ready for some seed.  And “Pappy’s Market;” a yellow tin roofed, 12 x 12, white shelved structure holding vegetables and other produce from the farm just up the lane.

All this scenery stirred my emotions and my thoughts.  It made me ponder the character of the Midwest—Indiana in particular.  It brought to mind John Wooden—a true definition of the word legend; Carl Erskine, Brooklyn Dodger hurler and local model of character and “The Hick from French Lick,” Larry Bird, one of the greatest basketball players of all time who appears to live simply and honestly in the day-to-day.  Something about all of this made me feel a sense of peace; of being at rest, secure, and grateful for what I have been given and challenged to do in the world.

I am not naïve in this feeling or reflection.  I have visited Cairo (Egypt, not Indiana), London, Mumbai, Delhi, and other megalopolis cities across the planet.  Indiana, too, has its bright lights and faster pace life of Indianapolis, South Bend, Merrillville, and other larger cities.  All of these have their charm, beauty, and amenities not found in the rural Midwest, but something about this drive along rural IN-15 brought a sense of calm.  It reminded me of what is solid in the world—of being a part of a community, family, rubbing elbows with legends who know your first name, and character.

Indiana carries the name, “The Crossroads of America.”  It is a place where all kinds of highways intersect.  These roads bring together industry, new and old ideas, cosmopolitan and rural values.  Yet, at the heart of it there is still a feel of home; a place where one might find serenity from the hurried pace of life and a calm that affirms life can be good.   I reached my destination with peace of mind, feeling that I, too, should spend my life inviting people to “come and sit a spell” when our own paths crossed; to welcome them to enjoy good conversation, hospitality, and to find inner-peacefulness that will keep them grounded no matter where they travel or what they experience.    

Blessings, grace and peace for your day.  I am looking forward to when our paths cross.

David Neidert