Tuesday 12 February 2013

Pope's resignation highlights communications issues for international business leaders

Many international business leaders have been struck by the dramatic resignation of  Pope Benedict on 11 February as the leader of a huge multinational organisation presiding over 1.3 billion people around the world. Pope Benedict's reasons for stepping down will resonate in the commercial world - for lacking the mental and physical strength to continue to carry out his duties effectively but criticism will follow about the lack of succession planning and a smooth transition.  The fact that the Vatican was rocked by the Pope's announcement is public knowledge will also take its toll.  As in any organisation it will not inspire confidence to know that the leadership who must now elect a successor is very much on the backfoot. It is not helpful to have to take a decision in the full glare of the international spotlight. In human terms, few people around the world will question Pope Benedict's justification for his decsion given that he is an octogenarian.  But in leadership and communication terms things could have been done much better.  In crisis management criteria the performance is poor given the inevitable international focus on the Vatican.  No slick front- of-camera leader stepping forward to allay public fears. No calming statements being issued that a smooth path ahead has long been planned. No pacifying remarks about continuity and business as usual. The sense of shock that engulfed the Vatican as the Pope made his announcement is evident; notes of panic have clearly been struck. This is a perilous position for any international organsiation to be in.  The Pope's dramatic departure will have a lasting impact on the Catholic Church - he will go down in history as the first pontiff to resign unexpectedly in some 600 years.  Few business leaders have to worry about setting such a precedent but many - including the most successful public figures - will have contemplated resignation at some point during their tenure as head of an organisation.  The Pope's decision may shake the confidence of many catholics around the world. The words "If he doesn't have the strength to continue what hope for the rest of us!" have already been proliferated in many countries.   The Vatican will need to recognise that Pope Benedict's successor will have a major communications task from the first moment he assumes the papacy.  It is not a task for the Pontiff alone but a collective focus to ensure that the best interests of the global organisation - in this case the catholic church across the globe - are served. Globally effective communications are central to core business function. The Vatican will need to demonstrate it is on top of its game.  www.globalnewsmakers.com

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