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Pope Francis is garnering early accolades for his perceived humility, which, oddly, reminds me of President Jimmy Carter.

Pope Francis’s humble heart, observers say, was quickly demonstrated by his decision to eschew a limousine for a shuttle bus ride with the cardinals, his choice to carry his own luggage, and the fact he settled his own lodging bill. All this, people believe, is evidence of Pope Francis’s authenticity, his man-of-the-people persona.

When Jimmy Carter ran for President in 1976 he was frequently photographed carrying his own suit bag. After the election, he continued this practice, suspended the traditional playing of “Hail to the Chief,” and conducted fireside chats dressed in cardigan sweaters. He also greatly reduced the perks of the White House staff and sold two presidential yachts. All this was to counter the so-called “Imperial Presidency” of both Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

What’s more than interesting about this story is that it wasn’t long before President Carter stopped carrying his bags and discarded the cardigans. And “Hail to the Chief” made a comeback too, in part because Carter’s decision to stop the Marine Band from playing the song caused a public outcry, and in part because Carter needed it. As his presidency progressed from one crisis to the next—Iran Hostages, Afghanistan, Inflation—“Malaise”—Panama Canal—the Carter Administration was increasingly considered a failure, or at best embarrassingly inept. What to do? Ditch the humility symbols and get back to pomp and ceremony in an effort to restore an aura of power and effectiveness.

Some papacy observers within and without the Catholic Church hope Pope Francis’s early actions on “small matters” signal a change of philosophy and perhaps approach to management that will hold church bureaucrats accountable and refocus the mission of the church on the needs of the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. So the Pope-of-hope is under heavy expectation and scrutiny right out of the gate.

Though I am not Catholic I wish Pope Francis I well because he is in a position that could do a world of good for many needy people. He’s in a position that could move the church toward compassion, accountability, and justice in the priest sex scandals. He could rework the Vatican’s financial fiascos toward some transparency and accountability. He is in a position of leadership.

If the Pope’s actions on these “small matters” are indeed evidence of a humble heart, as opposed to Mr. Carter’s imagery, than there’s genuine hope the Pope’s eventual actions on “large matters” will point in the right, and righteous, direction.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2013

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Italian cruise captain Francesco Schettino apparently deviated off course as a favor to his headwaiter. Then he came too close to land and allowed his cruise ship, Costa Concordia, to run aground with 4200 passengers on board.

Bad scene. Some 11 people are dead and, with more missing, the potential for the count to increase still remains.

If this isn’t bad enough, we learn the captain abandoned his ship while passengers, perhaps several hundred, remained in danger on board. The Italian Coast Guard reached him somehow by phone, leaving a recording of the wayward captain arguing plaintively with the Coast Guard official’s order to get back on board, now, and help the passengers. Add to this, scores of passengers’ stories of utter chaos along with a crew that variously tried to help or themselves abandoned ship and you have an amazing failure of leadership.

We don’t yet know the whole truth about what happened on this cruise ship. Nor do we know why the captain acted in such an un-captain-like manner. But it’s obvious to anyone who’s paid attention. This is an example of how not to lead.

The best leaders lead. They assume and maintain responsibility. They act ethically, morally, and conscientiously to the extent of their knowledge and ability--and sometimes beyond. They are stewards who think constantly about the people, resources, and mission entrusted to them.

Captains, so the old sea-going saying has it, go down with the ship. This isn’t an irrational death wish. It’s a leader’s honor.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

We know that good people do good things and bad people do bad things. That’s common sense based on experience born out everyday.

So it seems logical to say that leaders with good character will be successful, will choose and achieve (good) goals, and in the end leave positive legacies. It seems equally a no-brainer to conclude that leaders with bad character will be unsuccessful, will choose bad goals, likely will not achieve them, and in the end leave negative legacies.

But reality is not so simple. Truth be told, sometimes leaders evidencing good, even exemplary, character do not choose wisely, do not achieve, are not successful, and leave tarnished legacies. Meanwhile, strange as it may seem, leaders who are “bad people” back and accomplish good goals and eventually leave their leadership role lauded for success.

FDR apparently conducted at least one affair until the day he died; yet he is regarded as one of America’s great presidents. JFK apparently “carried on” in the White House in more ways than one, including with Marilyn Monroe; yet he is remembered for his vision and for his strength in staring down Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

LBJ was a womanizer, and he was arrogant and crude. But LBJ helped enact both the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts of the mid-1960s, changing race relations for the better at long last and forever. Nixon campaigned as the “Law and Order” candidate, than orchestrated a break-in and cover-up precipitating a constitutional crisis. Finally, the law and order man resigned in disgrace.

Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush are clearly men of deep and abiding Christian faith. They are men of good character. But both, though accomplishing some things, walked away from what many consider failed presidencies.

So people of lesser character sometimes accomplish good to great things and people of higher character sometimes accomplish very little or even falter or fail. Hmmm. Why?

Character is still a predictor. It’s just not alone in its influence. Too many other variables are at work to isolate on character (which the Right and which religious voters tend to do) and use it as our one and only assessment of a leader’s potential.

Another reason character is not in itself a predictor is that leaders are not “all good” or “all bad.” All human beings are made in the image of God; yet all possess a sin nature. We are capable of nobility and ignobility. We are an enigmatic mix of good and evil and, under pressure, in the wrong moment, who knows what will come out?

In addition, to state the obvious, God is sovereign. He works in mysterious ways. The heart of the king is in his hand and God turns it wither he will. Sometimes what we call lack of success or utter failure fits within the plan of God. Sometimes he allows leaders with bad character to flourish, and sometimes God allows leaders of good will to endure hardship. Why? Only God knows.

So it’s possible that a would-be president with multiple divorces and affairs on his record just might turn out to be a good leader. It’s equally possible that a would-be president with an exemplary reputation just might turn out to be a poor president. It’s hard to tell based on our finite assessments of their perceived character—and that’s another consideration: “perceived” character is not always “actual” character. Things are not always what they seem.

Don’t get me wrong. Character matters. But using it as a predictor of leadership success is just not as easy as we might wish.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Kirk Cousins is the next Tim Tebow. In all the good ways—what media people now call “intangibles”—Cousins, like Tebow, evidences a consistently outstanding character rooted in overtly and regularly expressed Christian faith, superior leadership skills, team spirit, and personal maturity.

Kirk Cousins is Michigan State University’s graduating quarterback. Today he led his team to victory in a three-overtime win over the University of Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl. During his football career at MSU Cousins won more games than any quarterback in program history, and he goes out a winner in every way conceivable. In today’s nationally televised performance he put himself on the map.

“Intangibles” is the word ESPN commentator Jon Gruden uses to refer to Kirk Cousins as in “His intangibles are off the charts,” and NBC “Sunday Night Football’s” Al Michaels uses to describe Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s on and off-field character, as well as his ability to lead.

“Intangibles” means all the things you can’t really measure, things other than athleticism or football knowledge, experience, and skill. For success in a football career, especially as a quarterback, possessing the capacity to lead is critical. Personal character is a bonus. Intangibles.

Tim Tebow is a leader, whatever you think of his passing skills. He’s also what he seems and claims to be, a young man who lives his Christian faith and walks the walk. His attitude and his actions say, “Good role model.”

Kirk Cousins has done the same thing since his secondary years at Holland Christian in Holland, Michigan, and throughout his years at MSU. Cousins lives his Christian values openly but not offensively. He is a leader with the ability and desire to motivate those around him. He praises team members, speaks articulately about higher standards and brings to whatever he does a great work ethic and never-give-up attitude—all quite Tebow-like.

In what may be the worst year for collegiate sports in many a decade (scandals at Penn State, Syracuse, Miami, Ohio State and more), Cousins is a bright light of hope.

Kirk Cousins says he’s going to give the NFL a try. I hope he does. We need more of his ilk in professional sports. I wish he and Tim Tebow well.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Our times are turbulent. Technology has given us a “think globally, act locally” public square that brings the world to our doorstep. It’s a time that desperately needs leaders.

“Postmodernity” is the ten dollar word scholars use to describe our times. It’s a term referencing the global culture that emerged in the late Twentieth Century and continues today. Actually, postmodernity is both a period of time and a belief system, both of which are characterized by “moral relativism” (meaning people believe that truth cannot be defined or known, so neither can “right” or “wrong” be identified). It’s also a time characterized by extroverted sensuality, consumer choice among an infinite variety of options—including spirituality—and a sense of “living in the now.”

Postmodern men and women are able to do what’s right in their own eyes. And “what’s right” can literally be a construct of our own imagination. So one person’s determination of “What’s right” means nothing to the rest of us. We live in the now.

This sounds attractive, in part, because we’re all “closet libertarians.” We want to do what we want to do without interference. We want to follow our own self-generated rules for living. We sing along with Frank Sinatra, “I’ll do it my way."

But this free wheeling emotional, social, economic, and political landscape is the very thing that causes people to feel uncertain, confused, anxious, and afraid. It’s the cultural condition that creates people’s hunger for leaders who can make sense of it all.

Religion doesn’t seem to help much. Either religion has sold out to consumerism, offering schlock products rather than faith and wisdom principles for real life. Or religion is imploding on its own lack of confidence, no longer sure of its foundations or its vision for a better tomorrow. Of course if there is no truth, who cares what religion says anyway?

But therein is the problem. The idea that truth doesn’t exist is a satanic lie. If we’re deluded by this idea than maybe we’ll forget that God is, that he is sovereign over world affairs, and that He has a plan for us.

The “problem of our times” is also the “opportunity of our times” as leaders. The more volatile the times, the more leaders can more quickly make a difference. Like Theodore Roosevelt, who chose to address and alter the problems of his day, great leaders step up.

Postmodern times need leaders like Jesus, who—“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Our turbulent times need what might be called “shepherd leaders.”

Shepherd leaders know all their sheep—their abilities, their needs, their unique challenges. Shepherd leaders know their environment and the threats within it. They know where they’re going and why, and they know what their sheep need to do to be productive and successful.

Perhaps this analogy tends to break down, for not all followers are like sheep, nor are followers simply passive and leaders the absolute masters of their flocks. But there are still principles to glean.

Our postmodern times have deeply unsettled our culture, our country, and our colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Leaders with genuine Christian faith and hope, leaders who genuinely care about others, and leaders who genuinely give of themselves can bless their organizations and their communities with moral imagination, courage, and clarity. These leaders do not depend upon religion but upon a relationship with Christ. These leaders are compassionate, visionary, energetic, and true. They know that their confidence and their competence come from the Lord. These leaders trust Christ and are therefore able to be trustworthy. They believe in truth, so they speak truthfully. These leaders step up to the challenges and opportunities of turbulent times.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

No leader leads forever. All leaders leave. It’s our humanity writ large.

We seize another opportunity, age, grow tired, get bored, get fired, take time out to “spend time with the family,” retire, get sick or die. But one way or another, no matter what we are leading, we eventually leave. For the President of the United States, it’s four years or eight years but no more.

So changing leaders is not the problem. It happens. But changing leaders badly can debilitate or destroy an organization. Poor leadership transition can disillusion people within and without, the organization’s personnel and public.

In my estimation this happened at the University of Michigan when men’s football coach Lloyd Carr retired and Rich Rodriquez was named his successor. Rodriquez got off a horrible start and things went downhill from there—his buy-out penalty at West Virginia University wasn’t honored and WVU had to sue to get what was rightfully owed, statements were made on all sides that later proved suspect, and so it went. Add a poor win-loss record and Rodriquez was fired three years later. The entire story is a case study for what not to do in leadership transition.

One way to attempt to avoid (no guarantees) a major hiccup in leadership transition is to plan the transition. Plan leadership succession, not necessarily anointing an heir apparent, but plan the process by which the next leader will be identified.

The responsibility for planned leadership succession resides with current leadership—the Board and the chief officers of the organization. Herein lies a sometimes problem. For a variety of reasons and motives current leaders may not want to plan transition.

Current leaders are sometimes threatened by the prospects of developing a leadership succession plan. They confuse the process with their own security and sense of longevity. Sometimes leaders push planning into the future because they’d rather deal with immediate issues; classic procrastination.

Boards make a terrible mistake when they dilly-dally with leadership succession in the warped view that doing so is a statement of confidence in the current leader. Or, directors are so enamored by the current leader they beg him/her to stay forever. But forever doesn’t happen this side of the afterlife. Consequently, something inevitably happens and suddenly the organization is facing leadership transition with no idea of how to pull it off.

Stockholders in for-profit enterprises and constituents or donors supporting nonprofit organizations have a stake in who’s leading and who will be leading. For them, leadership succession planning is good stewardship that attempts to perpetuate the wellbeing of the organization. Without this planning, the organization can get caught shooting craps with its own future. Shrewd stakeholders who see this sometimes quietly opt out when they think the risk is getting too high.

The old biblical monarchies had a kind of built-in leadership transition process. Whenever Father stepped aside, Son stepped in. It was simple. Contemporary organizations sometimes operate on that principle, but usually they face a more complex task and thus need more planning.

Boards that develop a leadership contingency and succession plan, a kind of “Leader’s Will,” greatly increase the chances of a smooth and successful leadership transition.

Leadership transition works best when leaders know when to leave. An organization’s potential for long-term viability is increased when it is affirmed that no one is irreplaceable. Lame duck leaders or “Emperors who have no clothes” are deadly to an organization’s image, effectiveness, and health. In non-profit or profit settings, Boards must take responsibility. Weak Boards produce weak organizations and nowhere is this more quickly evident than in instances of current leaders being permitted to stay too long.

Formal search processes for new leaders are virtually inevitable and almost always desirable. Organizations do not always enjoy the comfort of an in-house heir apparent, and even if they do, it’s better for both the presumed heir and the organization for him/her to win or earn the new position, not be granted it outright. A search helps validate the choice. Besides, a search may make it evident that a presumptive heir is not so logical or capable after all.

One of the best ways to prepare an organization for leadership transition is to develop potential leaders who can later be considered in the search. “Up and comers” should be targeted for mentoring, role modeling, networking, and special assignment opportunities. Failure to develop young staff can drive away a whole generation of prospective leaders, crippling the organization for years to come. Organizations are strengthened by plans that proactively identify and support leadership talent from all walks of life.

Leadership succession planning becomes logically more important for organizations with long-term and older leaders. It’s just good business. More than that, it instills confidence in all stakeholders that the organization is in good hands today and will be, to the best of our abilities, in good hands tomorrow too.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.