This week, the world will witness an event that has not occurred since the year 1415—a Pope stepping down from the Papacy.
Although we all watched his predecessor grow more frail and disabled during the final years of his papacy, Benedict XVI has decided to spare the world audience the repeat performance of witnessing the same debilitation take hold of him during his reign. He has chosen to abdicate the Papal Office on the grounds that he is becoming unable to measure up to its many responsibilities.
Of course, while some may disagree, reigning as Pope is like night and day in comparison to serving as a credit union executive, volunteer or CEO. Nevertheless, we ought to ask ourselves if there is a lesson we can all learn from Pope Benedict, a man to whom the keys of St. Peter have been entrusted. Can one find in this historic gesture a particularly meaningful take-away.
As I avidly read the news surrounding Benedict’s upcoming abdication and follow the stirrings underway in preparation for a Papal Conclave tasked with electing his successor, I see three lessons of value for all of us who hold a position of influence and leadership.
1) Know your limitations
- Be cognizant of the demands required by the office you hold and be honest with yourself about your personal capabilities in meeting them.
Today’s world is quite different from the ‘60s of the last century. Credit unions continue to evolve, growing in technology and service offerings as they strive to meet the demands of a highly sophisticated financial services marketplace. Keeping abreast of all the changes in regulations, delivery channels and consumer needs can be, without a doubt, an overwhelming task. And, to further compound one’s effort to meet all these challenges on a daily basis is age and one’s ability to run the race. Age should not be seen as a game-ender. I prefer to view it as a game-changer.
There comes a point when we need to be honest with ourselves in realizing that the demands of the game require a finesse and agility best suited to someone else. That absolutely is not to say it’s all over, rather, it’s simply the recognition that one can accomplish more from the third-base coaching box rather than the batter’s box.
For example, consider any of the greatest pitchers in baseball. For them, throwing smoke was not the same 10 or 15 years into their career. There comes a point when the smoke starts to become a whiff. So then what happens? Acknowledging the realities of the situation, they simply continue the game but in a different manner—becoming a pitching coach, going on a speaker’s tour for Major League Baseball or maybe even sailing around the world.
2) It's all about the organization; not you
- Realize the role you play is that of a leader, inspiring others by both word and deed. It's not about your success and personal record book rather, it's about the team and what's best for it.
In his resignation announcement, Pope Benedict cited the demands associated with the Papacy. Realizing his growing inability to meet all those demands, he concluded that remaining in office would be detrimental to the health and welfare of the church. One surely has to admire him for such virtue.
Benedict may not have accomplished all he had hoped to do as Pope. Some may even view his “record book” as being short on achievements or tainted by all the challenges facing the church. Of course, only time will reveal the actual reasons that influenced his decision to abdicate. However, one cannot deny his role in ecclesial history for deciding to put the Papacy and needs of the church before his own.
If a Pope can step down from office, then one must ask why it is that others find it to be an unacceptable option when it becomes apparent that the required vigor to do the job is no longer present.
3) Finish strong
- End your biography on a high-note. Then immediately start working on a sequel.
Remember Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts back in the sixties and seventies? He happens to be one of my all-time football favorites. He was a record-setting quarterback, selected as the league’s most valuable player in 1959, 1964 and 1967. His overall achievements list him as one of the greatest NFL players of all time.
When I think of Johnny I can’t help but recall his numerous face-offs against Broadway Joe Namath of the New York Jets. My most savory memory however is Super Bowl V, a championship he clenched in the waning years of his career. I remember all the talk back then. Reporters and analysts alike all wondered if Johnny’s Super Bowl V win would be the crowning highlight of his career. Will he now decide to retire? Yes, I certainly remember the chatter because as my favorite football star, I had a vested interest in Johnny and did not want to see him move on.
Instead, what followed was anticlimactic; a sad ending to the career of a player I revered as a legend. I watched as Johnny decided to push on, be traded to the San Diego Chargers in ’73 and after a sad and lackluster year, fade into retirement in 1974. You see, along with my fond memories of Johnny is one that's most sad. It's a memory of Johnny playing as a Charger and being badly sacked. It was painful.
As we watch Benedict XVI abdicate the Papacy this week, let’s all remember the primacy of the organization which we serve; the role we play in leading and inspiring others; the strengths and weaknesses associated with our humanity; and, the way we want our biographies to sum up our professional achievements.