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Columbia University students
Leadership students

Columbia University students

The graduate students contributing here are members of "Leadership Development" at course at Teacher's College, Columbia University, taught by On Leadership panelist Todd Henshaw.

Use the past for the future

Q: Pope Benedict XVI's efforts to deal with the Church's sex scandal raises this question: Can a leader hold managers to account on an issue where his own past performance is in question?


Let us be fair, every human being makes mistakes. Mistakes are human and often increase personal development as we continuously learn from them. Depending on the type of mistake, one may deduct certain personality characteristics that are conducive to or inhibit effective leadership. One needs to differentiate whether the mistake is a sign of inability to perform the current leadership position (as pedophilia would be) or whether it was due to a lack of care when selecting the priests to work with.

However, once we come to the conclusion that the mistake does not reflect a personality trait that inhibits leadership, we should stop holding people accountable for everything that happened in their past, if they have moved on and learned from it.

Possibly, those individuals who were exposed to prior experiences with a certain unfortunate incident have even more to say about it, as they have engaged in more reflection. In that case, those leaders may be even more effective in reminding their managers of their mistakes and helping them overcome them, as they can demonstrate greater understanding and knowledge on related concerns.

Therefore, a leader's past performance should be taken into account when he or she is holding their managers accountable; however, a leader's past mistakes may also prove to be a beneficial reminder in the present and an opportunity to learn for the future. - Franziska Funk


Credos Broken

The questionable background of Pope Benedict and his methods for handling his "subordinates" brings to mind the issue that Johnson and Johnson faced years ago. The common story told in my leadership classes shows the vast impact of an organization honoring their word. With little hesitation, Johnson and Johnson threw out millions of dollars to respect their customers and follow their organization's credo. This move gained the public's respect and only strengthened J & J in their eyes. Dealing with issues head on shows courage and that communicating with those outside of your organization openly shows integrity. Though I am not a very spiritual person, I find it odd that the Pope, of all people, can't follow a credo that he chooses to follow every day. His lack of tact and integrity in dealing with the issues around him only diminishes his integrity. He will lose the respect of his followers and will therefore lose some of his power. Ultimately, he is failing to honor his religion and the people who are faithful to him. Without integrity, who will believe anything we do or say? - Tanya Roth


The Coal Walk of Leadership

Can a leader hold others accountable where his or her past actions were questionable? Absolutely. Are they going to be effective in doing so? Not necessarily. It depends entirely on if and how that leader has dealt with their past.

People make mistakes and have errors in judgment. That's to be expected. But one's growth as a human being and as a leader depends on whether they have reflected on their actions and what lessons they extracted from the experience. If a leader has not taken corrective action, their authority to govern is undermined. Hypocrites are ineffective influencers. Eliot Spitzer, anyone? To be a good leader one must be transparent about their personal learning journey. To stand in front of your followers, admit wrongdoing, and share the lessons gleaned from the process takes true courage. That kind of courage breeds trust.

A leader is responsible for holding their managers' feet to the fire. Holding others accountable is, in part, the definition of leadership. But first, they must have walked across the coals themselves. - Jill Logan


Yes He Can

Like so many out there, I've been following the breaking news headlines on my iPhone. I now understand why the Pope's letter of reprimand was more of a gentle slap on the hand vs. an angrier and more forceful defrocking of the Bishops involved...the Pope himself had been involved in the cover up! Am I angry? Yes. Am I disgusted? Yes. Can a leader hold managers to account on an issue where his past performance is in question? YES. Absolutely.

Why? He was not the Pope back then, and his job as Cardinal Ratzinger was to deal with problems much like a "middle manager" in the business world. He was doing his job. He thought he was protecting the church, the institution, the history, the legacy. He was also younger and less experienced than he is today.

I'm sure he is well aware today that his inaction caused unnecessary pain and unbelievable suffering. Hindsight is 20/20. Would he blow the whistle today if he had the opportunity to go back? Probably. Hopefully. But we need to remember that leaders are fallible, and media and the public like to drudge up the past. However, when Pope Benedict took his oath, it was at that moment that he promised to be different from the rest. It was from that moment on that he was to live and behave differently from his former life.

When I go to church, I am much more apt to listen wholeheartedly to a preacher that has been through hell and back - drugs, alcoholism, fornication, etc. I want to see that my leader has had struggles, is not perfect, needs salvation, and has changed. That is what a leader should be. An example of what IS possible. And now, with his experience, he will hopefully mentor the next generation of Catholic leadership by showing them that his inaction was wrong and that history must not repeat itself. Well, he better do it. - Sharon Ha


Benedict is not out of line, just not a media darling

We look at Pope Benedict and see a man conflicted with no simple dilemma - dealing with the sins of his people in private in the spirit of forgiveness and solidarity, or seeking public justice as any head-of-state would, inadvertently magnifying the scandal as the media is doing so today. It is unfortunate that in an effort to avoid media-magnified scandal back when it was first kept private; it has exploded into an even bigger issue today.

The question this week first and foremost isn't fair. Benedict's manner of holding his people accountable may not have been done in the way a supreme justice would, but understanding his acts from the point of view of a benevolent father clarifies to an extent the reason behind his actions. "Was he right in what he did?" is often the question; "was there malicious intent to allow the perpetuation of such misconduct?" is never asked. One need not look far to answer the latter - as a cardinal he took the most relentless, uncompromising stand against liberalist moves in the church.

Moreover, let us not forget the bias some media reports have all too often displayed against the Catholic Church, as if to label it as an organization rife with pedophiles. I end with this with an excerpt from a piece written by prominent Jewish businessman, Sam Miller:

"Let me give you some figures that Catholics should know and remember. For example, 12% of the 300 Protestant clergy surveyed admitted to sexual intercourse with a parishioner; 38% acknowledged other inappropriate sexual contact in a study by the United Methodist Church, 41.8% of clergy women reported unwanted sexual behavior; 17% of laywomen have been sexually harassed. Meanwhile, 1.7% of the Catholic clergy has been found guilty of pedophilia. 10% of the Protestant ministers have been found guilty of pedophilia. This is not a Catholic problem."

This ought to provide balance and context to the opinions about Benedict. While questions still need to be answered, one fact is apparent - that if Benedict were guilty of anything, it would be of not being media darling. - Martin Gonzalez

By Columbia University students

 |  March 30, 2010; 12:08 PM ET
Category:  Religious leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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