PopeWatch: Leadership Pathologies



PopeWatch despises books that attempt to distill leadership secrets from such diverse individuals as Napoleon, Attila, Lincoln, etc.  The history is invariably shoddy, and the leadership “secrets” usually banal.  However, Gary Hamet at The Harvard Business Review has looked at the verbal flogging given by Pope Francis to the Curia last Christmas and has distilled from it 15 diseases of leadership:

  1. The disease of thinking we are immortal, immune, or downright indispensable, [and therefore] neglecting the need for regular check-ups. A leadership team which is not self-critical, which does not keep up with things, which does not seek to be more fit, is a sick body. A simple visit to the cemetery might help us see the names of many people who thought they were immortal, immune, and indispensable! It is the disease of those who turn into lords and masters, who think of themselves as above others and not at their service. It is the pathology of power and comes from a superiority complex, from a narcissism which passionately gazes at its own image and does not see the face of others, especially the weakest and those most in need. The antidote to this plague is humility; to say heartily, “I am merely a servant. I have only done what was my duty.
  1. Another disease is excessive busyness. It is found in those who immerse themselves in work and inevitably neglect to rest a while.  Neglecting needed rest leads to stress and agitation. A time of rest, for those who have completed their work, is necessary, obligatory and should be taken seriously: by spending time with one’s family and respecting holidays as moments for recharging.
  1. Then there is the disease of mental and [emotional] “petrification”.   It is found in leaders who have a heart of stone, the stiff-necked;  in those who in the course of time lose their interior serenity, alertness and daring, and hide under a pile of papers, turning into paper pushers and not men and women of compassion. It is dangerous to lose the human sensitivity that enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! Because as time goes on, our hearts grow hard and become incapable of loving all those around us. Being a humane leader means having the sentiments of humility and unselfishness, of detachment and generosity.
  1. The disease of excessive planning and of functionalism. When a leader plans everything down to the last detail and believes that with perfect planning things will fall into place, he or she becomes an accountant or an office manager. Things need to be prepared well, but without ever falling into the temptation of trying to eliminate spontaneity and serendipity, which is always more flexible than any human planning. We contract this disease because it is easy and comfortable to settle in our own sedentary and unchanging ways.

    Interesting, but ultimately unconvincing.  Leadership, because it deals with human interactions, is always going to be an art rather than a science.  Some tips can be useful, for example never dressing down subordinates in public, but there is no master style of leadership, and what works well for one person or one group can be a disaster if viewed as an infallible guide.  Likewise for the pathologies.  Treated like useful tips, many managers can read them and glean useful bits from them, but I have been involved with fairly effective organizations where such pathologies co-existed with good leadership, and sometimes they co-existed in the same leader.

More to explorer


  1. Eeeh…there can be a time and place to dress down subordinates in public, but it’s got to be pretty dang precise, targeted and limited. Some folks won’t respond to anything else, but that’s on the “or fire them immediately” level. (And may very well result in them quitting.)
    “Merry Christmas, you suck– by the way, we’re live world-wide” isn’t it. :/

  2. I should print this out for my best friend to give to her Baptist boss. He’s into leadership via how-to/self-help seminars.

    Mostly because he doesn’t know how to lead.

  3. Another communicable disease that pathological leadership causes is found when those being led perceive indulgence and allowance of corruption and wasteful ineptitude.

  4. The incomparable Walter Bagehot was surely right: “We have all heard the saying that “Frederic the Great lost the battle of Jena.” It was the system which he had established—a good system for his wants and his times—which, blindly adhered to, and continued into a different age, put to strive with new competitors, brought his country to ruin. The “dead and formal” Prussian system was then contrasted with the “living” French system—the sudden outcome of the new explosive democracy. The system which now exists is the product of the reaction; and the history of its predecessor is a warning what its future history may be too. It is not more celebrated for its day than Frederic’s for his, and principle teaches that a bureaucracy, elated by sudden success, and marvelling at its own merit, is the most unimproving and shallow of Governments.”

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