How a Pope Leads

The transformation from Cardinal to Pope is not so different from what business leaders experience when they assume a top job

Posted on Leadership at Work: April 17, 2008 8:32 AM

Joseph Ratzinger was considered one of the toughest proponents of doctrinal values in the Catholic Church. As s theologian and later as Cardinal, Ratzinger served as Pope Paul II's "attack dog" on doctrinal orthodoxy. He brooked no dissent; and his manner left no room for disagreement. Today, as Pope Benedict XVI, he is perceived as a kindly man, a servant of the faithful. Are Ratzinger and Benedict one and the same man? Of course. The difference is that Ratzinger is now number one and as number one, he cannot indulge himself in churchly partisanship. He is the leader of all Catholics.

Ratzinger's transformation from zealot to leader is not unique. We see these kinds of transformations in politics and business. As a number two, or at least high up in the hierarchy, a leader has the freedom to indulge in single issues about which he feels great passion. However, those fortunate to become the most senior leader, either as CEO or president, quickly realize that such zeal alienates people on either side of the proverbial aisle. Those leaders who can bridge the divide are those who do better. Here are some suggestions for making the leap from number two to number one.

Think "we" first. The person in charge ceases to stand alone. She stands for the entire organization. Whether you are the president of your bank or the leader of your team, you represent others. Act as if you do. In many ways you play second fiddle to everyone else; you select competent people who think, plan and execute. You enable them to do their jobs.

Make the tough decisions. While you may play a secondary role in planning and execution, you are the one who gets the ball rolling. You are the one who puts people (or at least approves of them) into key positions. Align yourself to the values of the organization and champion them.

Be forgiving. The top dog must withhold his bark. As an up and comer, your passion set you apart. As a senior leader, your passion must be tempered with compassion. Think big picture as well as consider how people you may dislike or disagree with are good for the organization. At the same time, spare no mercy with those who abuse others or break the law. Standing above the fray will ensure that your voice is heard and when you do need to shout, it will be heard above the din.

As number one, Pope Benedict has not reneged from his commitment to Catholic orthodoxy. However, he now does it with a softer edge. Likewise, Winston Churchill as Prime Minister never shied from a battle he thought worth waging. He could always be counted on to stand against Nazism (hurrah!) as well as for Empire (boo!).

For some, becoming number one is the fulfillment of a career. Now they have the authority to do what they think is best for the organization. That means bringing people together whenever possible rather than driving them away.

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