Hile Rutledge
Trainer, author

Hile Rutledge

CEO and owner of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), a training and consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development.

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A leader's tightrope

Q: Will Pope Benedict be so damaged by the clergy abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church in Europe that his papacy never recovers? Or does the crisis offer him an opportunity to distinguish his leadership from John Paul II's years as pope?

The story of Pope Benedict and the child molestation and sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church touches many emotionally charged and quite disturbing topics. As a leadership and organization development consultant and trainer, I'd like to bypass all of these and talk about one less dramatic strand of the story that I wrestle with frequently --as do my clients: the challenge of reform and change.

Many have had withering criticisms of Pope Benedict -- his pre-papal actions as well as his recent apology.

While I would argue that all of these criticisms are well earned and deserved, it is a fact that Pope Benedict has admitted and faced more of this scandal than any pope in history. Thinking about this from an organizational leadership perspective, his challenges are an extreme and very public version of a tension that most leaders have to struggle with: How much change does the system need and, frankly, how much change can the system withstand?

Barack Obama came into office with health care reform a top priority. For over a year, he headed an effort to reform this system with significant pressure from his political left, which actually wanted a single-payer, public system.

The political right was interested in, if anything, more targeted, focused "fixes" that did not break the bank or grow the size of the federal government. The leadership question became: How much change to the healthcare system will the political right allow, and will that be enough change -- and will it come soon enough -- to satisfy the political left?

I contend that one of arts of leadership is the ability to define and hold this tension. As soon as one end of the philosophical tug-of-war wins, generally an unchecked time of extremes commences, and a bigger problem has taken root. Finding a middle ground and holding the tension in the center while communicating with civility and sensitivity to those more extreme -- who are often both critics and detractors -- is an important, and often stressful role of leader.

Pope Benedict, like most organizational leaders, is walking a tightrope between forces on the one hand whose focus is individual parishioners and victims. On the other is an organization with over one billion members and a nearly 2,000-year history. There is also an obvious tension between forgiveness/redemption and justice, and of course, the pope holds the tension of two millennia of tradition and precedent countered by the modern era's constant drive to update and change.

In these ways, Pope Benedict is a very public and famous example of a leader who is struggling like all others. Whether he will be able to survive this, the Catholic Church's latest chapter of scandal, will depend on the degree to which he walks this tightrope and balances these opposing forces -- respecting them both, but allowing neither to crumble.

By Hile Rutledge  |  April 7, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Responding to scandal Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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