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.

“Yes, Virginia, you can be a Leader.”

“I don’t think women can lead.” This was the statement uttered confidently by a women being interviewed on the radio from a group in Iowa labeled Christian Conservative. The large group was being interviewed about the Republican presidential debate, the upcoming primary, and why a person would or would not vote for a particular candidate. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was summarily dismissed as a candidate by this woman, not because she lacks character, logic, leadership abilities, no vision, or any other reason. Bachmann may not be able to lead for a whole host of arguments, but being a woman is not one of them.

I have to say this statement pushed me over the edge and into this writing to affirm from my Christian perspective and study of the Bible that God calls, equips, and places women in roles of leadership.

I won’t make the laundry list….it would be pages and thousands of names long. An almost endless number of women have effectively and with vision lead nations, NGOs, universities, states, churches, businesses, etc., etc., etc. As a Christian, however, I now realize a statement like the one uttered this morning is based on personal opinion and little to do with intense scholarly exegesis or study of scripture, household codes of the ancient world which is the context of the Bible in these passages, or examinations of western church dogma as it plays on one’s opinions. Statements like these don’t pay any attention to the gospels and Jesus’ affirmation of women as disciples nor Paul’s overall tone in his letters about women and their roles as leaders, deaconesses and coordinators of the early church. One text…one text in Timothy…not fully examined has been read in such a way as to relegate women to second class roles and status. Even the Genesis text has been misused to simply dismiss women as equal partners. All the references to chapter three of Genesis of man being over women is after the “Fall” if one reads the context; chapter three is not the created order God desired. It is the order after sin and disobedience had entered into the world. The ideal described in scripture of women and men is in the first two chapters that the two should be one and in a partnership with each other.

It saddens me that these texts and others have been used to tell women they cannot lead. I have personally talked with young women called by God to serve in ministry and leadership roles who agonize over what they know God has placed on their hearts because people use the Bible to blast them or tell them they are unworthy of leading because they are women.

I believe we serve a God who calls all people to serve him where he appoints them and equips them. I believe the Holy Spirit equips and guides all people to lead within the kingdom. I believe Christ invites all people to be his disciples and lead the structures of the world where they have the ability. Women and men; men and women, partners in kingdom work and ministering through the structures of this world.

“Yes, Virginia, you can be a leader” and if you want support, drop me a note and I will supply you with all the resources you need to affirm, guide, and encourage you in the journey.

Blessings for this day. Grace and peace as you thoroughly study the sacred texts we hold dear.

David Neidert