Pontificating about Leadership

by Linda Henman, Ph.D.

Change something after more than six centuries of the status quo, and you’re bound to have a kerfuffle on your hands. That’s exactly what we had when the Pope announced his Pontificating about Leadershipretirement.

Ordinarily, popes don’t retire until after they die—or at least they change their status then. I’m no theologian, but I suspect popes don’t just get to retire at death either. I imagine for them the celestial kingdom involves a change of status—sort of like going from active duty in the military to reserve status. Then, when mere mortals start the beatification process on the road to sainthood, there’s bound to be a lot of paperwork, both on earth, as it is in heaven.

Business leaders, especially those running family-owned businesses, could take a page from this pontiff’s book. How many times have I tried to help families in business grow and reposition while Dad steadfastly blocked the door? Often, this happens when Dad has passed seventy, has experienced failing health, and can no longer keep up the rigorous travel and meeting schedule demanded of a leader.

Sandy Koufax and Frank Sinatra both went out at the top of their games. This pope can’t say that, but at least he’s still in the game. Too often, business owners hold the reins too long in a feeble attempt to reign longer.

My job—when I decide to accept it—consists of wrenching the joystick and the decision-making responsibilities from the owner and then suggesting to whom it might go. Not so easy.

Leaders of family-owned businesses cleave to the notion that because a person in the building shares DNA with him, that person should probably run the business some day. Popes don’t think like that. And cardinals, those who elect the new pope, don’t either. Instead, they have a specific list of criteria they use in selecting a new pope—things like “Must speak Italian.”

The cardinals don’t have a perfect system, and they rely on smoke signals instead of twitter to get messages out, but they’ve been around for thousands of years, and they own really cool art. Business leaders could do worse than to take heed.

If you found these tips from Linda Henman, Ph.D. of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.

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