Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

The Pope Shows That Sometimes Leadership is Addition by Subtraction


As I write this, it’s the day after Pope Benedict XVI announced that he intends to resign the papacy at the end of this month. Considering that the last time a pope resigned was 600 years ago, his announcement qualifies as a pretty big story.

There’s been a lot of reporting and commentary about the impact of Benedict’s resignation. For example, The New York Times offers a nice analysis of the issues at hand in its article, Successor to Benedict Will Lead a Church at the Crossroads. My friend and colleague, John Baldoni, was very quick off the mark earlier today with a post for Forbes that offered three questions inspired by the Pope’s announcement that leaders should ask themselves.

I’ve read a lot of interesting things about the Pope and the Catholic Church today, but the one that really stood out for me was a letter to the editor of the New York Times from Daniel C. Maguire, a professor of moral theology at Marquette University. He opens the letter with these two sentences:

“The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI may be the most influential act of his papacy. It opens a window of opportunity for serious reform, starting with the papacy, in a church roiled in multiple crises.”

Without going into all of the challenges facing the Church and whether or not Pope Benedict was effective in addressing them, I respect his decision to resign. At age 85 and in declining health, he recognized that he was not up to the job and went against centuries of tradition by not hanging on to his job until he died. Apparently, the health of the organization he’s led is more important to him than being the leader of that organization.

While he didn’t put it this way in his announcement, with his resignation the Pope is creating the opportunity for addition by subtraction. That’s a pretty unusual move for a leader in a position of great power. Think about it, how many CEO’s or politicians have you seen hang onto their jobs when they were clearly way past their “sell by” date? I can come up with half a dozen in less than six seconds.

What’s your take on the Pope’s resignation? Good move or bad? What factors should leaders consider as they assess whether or not it’s time to move on?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.