Unlocking the Heart and Soul of Remarkable Leadership, Keith Merron
Remarkable Leadership

Archive for October, 2010

Whither the Mighty Catholic Church

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

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Reeling from sex-abuse scandals, the Roman Catholic Church is losing members in droves. As recently as 2008, membership declined by 400,000. More than 1000 parishes have closed since 1995, and the number of priests has fallen from 49,000 to 40,000 during that period. The problem is far deeper than sex abuse. It goes to the heart of how institutions fail. When institutions become rigidified, leaders tend to protect their own positions of power. The roots of the decline of the Catholic Church trace back to the 1960s when a split developed over the reforms introduced by Pope John XXIII. Back then the beloved Pope called for more participation by lay people in church affairs, and the backlash was almost immediate. The more tradition-minded Bishops and Cardinals started to defend the authority and centrality of Rome. The traditionalists frowned on the more liberal tendencies of reformists,

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who, god forbid (excuse the intended double entendre), suggested that people need to have a say in the institutions they participate in and that the church needs to flex with the times. It appears to me that anytime an institution holds onto to its rules and policies of control and turns a blind eye to changes, it will eventually become obsolete. As the traditionalists have increased their power within the Vatican, the institution has been on the decline.

This is predictable, although many traditionalists might argue to the contrary. All institutions, no matter how anointed they are, must learn to adapt. If they become impervious to change or when they try to be, the cost is mighty. In the face of change and challenge to authority, so many leaders try to wrest control. They become rigid and, as a result, they are likely to snap. The best leaders are those who can flex with the breeze without breaking. One needs to be more like the bamboo, which is lighter and less dense than many other trees its same size, but, by virtue of its flexibility, survives in torrential rains where others break. Control is the way we become rigid and little is served. Guidance, reasoning, and heartfelt passion is the way we lead with a point of view, and when these are followed by openness and dialogue, good things happen. When our suggestions don’t carry sway with the followers our suggestions are intended to influence, the worst reaction we can have is to try to control. Leadership is a game of influence, not control, and the Catholic Church needs to learn this if it is to revive itself.

And yes, the sex scandals are a big problem. They are, however, not the cause. They are a symptom of a system that is doomed to fail when so many abuses, born out of a need for control, run rampant. When the leaders do not lead as role models, something is way out of whack. The church is the people of God. Its job is not to control others. It’s the hierarchy that is out of touch and it the hierarchy that needs to

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be reformed, not the people it is intended to serve.

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A Bottle of Wine for My Company

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Did you know that women in large corporations are leaving their companies far more than men? It is true and the cause has more to do with gender issues than meets the eye. They are, in effect, divorcing their male leaders or the masculine leadership

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that still predominates in corporate America, especially at the top Fortune 500 companies. It reminds me of a joke a friend recently sent to me:

Sally was driving home from one of her business trips in Northern Arizona when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road.

As the trip was a long and quiet one, she stopped the car and asked the Navajo woman if she would like a ride.
With a silent nod of thanks, the woman got into the car.

Resuming the journey, Sally tried in vain to make a bit of small talk with the Navajo woman. The old woman just sat silently, looking intently at everything she saw, studying every little detail, until she noticed a brown bag on the seat next to Sally.

“What in bag?” asked the old woman.

Sally looked down at the brown bag and said, “It’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.”

The Navajo woman was

silent for another moment or two. Then speaking with the quiet wisdom of an elder, she said:

“Good trade.”

I happen to love this bit of humor for it strikes a resonant chord. The same seems to be true in organizational life where male leaders often behave in ways that women find difficult. The problem is that men and women often don’t get along and because it is more often than not that men are in positions of power in Fortune 500 corporate America, women often feel unheard, misunderstood and unmet, especially the higher up the organizational ladder you go.

Why is that? Part of the difficulty is that often men and women don’t speak the same language. They speak the same words, but they think, see, and understand the same words differently. Also, so much of organizational life, especially business, can be so bottom-line oriented that the female focus on process can get overlooked by the male emphasis on outcome. Women are leaving positions of power in large corporations right and left to start their own businesses or join other companies with more progressive, inclusive cultures. Since they can’t trade in their boss for a bottle of wine, buy cheap viagra they divorce the organization and trade their boss for an environment that welcomes and celebrates their input. All too often this is a wise choice.

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