• Scott McInnes

#38 | Lollipopes and change

I'm not a religious person, so the Pope visiting Dublin last week didn't feature very highly on my radar (though I was proud of the show Ireland is able to put on when we're put on the world stage). I was also impressed with the not-unusual ability of people to turn a quick buck at events like this :-)

I did get to thinking though about parallels between work and Catholicism; and the uphill struggle that he, as the 'CEO' of the Catholic Church, has ahead of him.

Having talked openly about the various abuses that happened in this country over decades past, he vowed that something needed to be done. As was reported in today's Irish Times, 'Before leaving Ireland on Sunday evening, the pope told Ireland’s Catholic bishops they must address the problem of clerical child sex abuse with honesty and courage.'

Having now admitted to the fact that these abuses happened at the hands of his employees, having met the victims and talked often about the issue, he now has to do something about it.

Integrity's at stake

While the integrity of his organisation is arguably hanging in tatters, he does bring a bit of hope - that perhaps, unlike previous 'CEOs', he'll actually be able to effect change. He seems decent and people seem to like him - he was described by one journalist as 'a bit like your favourite uncle'.

So this time it's about him, his promises, his integrity. Like any leader coming off the back of a big presentation to the masses, what's critical now is action.

Words without action will start to undermine his authority, question his integrity and his ability to effect real and lasting change in his organisation. He needs to decide what his organisation stands for, what is right what is wrong and what its role is in today's much changed society.

Culture is like a fast flowing river

If we believe all we read, Francis' organisation and, in particular, his 'Head Office' are political minefields with cultures like a Himalayan river in full flow. So the question has to be - assuming he is committed to change (which I think he is in fairness) - how long he can swim against that current.

Or perhaps, he needs to think about what can he do in the immediate term to slow the flow enough so he can effect some meaningful change before he eventually tires and has to turn to swim with it.

Like swimming against a raging torrent, Culture change is hard, particularly if you're working with an age-old organisation, dealing with employees who are vested in retaining the status quo and who've 'seen it all before'.

No new blood

We often say that culture has to come from the top down. However, it can also come from the bottom up. By hiring people against the values we’ve set in our organizations, we can effect change by bringing in the right people, people who can challenge the current culture.

In Francis’ case he’s fighting a losing battle (in Ireland it would seem anyway). Numbers being ordained is down and that looks likely to continue - put simply, people (men!) have looked at the job spec and said ‘Thanks but no thanks’.

Actions are louder than words

The warm glow of the Papal visit will only last a short while and will wane quickly if something concrete doesn't happen pretty quickly.

But is instructing his Bishops in Ireland to 'address the problem of clerical child sex abuse with honesty and courage' enough? Does he need to be doing more and, if so, what?

Henry Ford once famously said 'You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do'.

This is Francis' opportunity to build his reputation - he'll just have to get going on an action plan sharpish.


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