Workplace Culture: Disease in Vatican City

January 08 2015 / by Mari Ryan

I’m standing up applauding Pope Francis for his leadership. He has one of the toughest leadership jobs in the world. He’s the chief executive of the smallest country in the world and at the same time the world’s largest Christian religion.

In his first annual Christmas address to the Curia, the equivalent of his senior leadership team, he curialambasted them by describing the diseases overtaking their culture. He stated "a church that doesn't try to improve is like a sick body." He specifically categorized these into diseases: “of feeling immortal or indispensable", "pathology of power," “loss of compassion” and “terrorism of gossip”. Ouch! No doubt the members of the Curia are feeling slammed by their senior leader’s public statements about the dysfunction of this team. While airing this in public may not be the best approach to dealing with management issues, perhaps Pope Francis felt that a dramatic move was necessary.

This is what may be considered “the moment you can’t ignore”. In their recent book by the same title, authors Malachi O’Connor and Barry Dornfield describe these moments as “an event or action, or even a comment, that stops you and your organization in its tracks, a moment when it becomes blindingly clear that new ways of working are clashing with existing ones.”

In any organization, the workplaceculture is shaped by the behavior of the senior leaders. This behavior establishes the beliefs and norms that shape the culture and expected behaviors of all members of the organization. Addressing cultural change in any organization is a difficult task. Especially in one that is described as being in a diseased state, as Pope Francis stated. Does this require major surgery, amputation, or regular doses of antibiotics?

Culture change is never easy, and in an organization such as the Curia with such traditions, history and, yes, politics, it will be especially challenging. Robert Mickens, an American journalist who has covered the Vatican for over 25 years stated on a recent CBS 60 Minutes interview that Pope Francis ‘has inherited a mess”. That mess is going to take some courage to address. This un-ignorable moment brings to mind some dynamics of organizational culture that all organizations would benefit from implementing.

  • Commitment to the mission. This is clearly a ‘purpose and mission driven’ organization. The ability to execute on an organization’s strategy is only as strong as the commitment by the individuals in the organization to the mission and purpose. Loss of compassion can limit an organizations ability to execute on their strategy. A restarted commitment to their mission may help an organization come together with restated purpose and passion for their work.
  • Communication. An environment of open and transparent communication is necessary for an organization to function effectively. Pope Francis is certainly calling it like it is. Gossip and internal infighting don’t lead to effective and efficient operations. Trust is a foundation of good communication. A first step is to work on trust within the team. By building trust, your organization will be able to communicate in more open and effective ways.
  • Collaboration. Pope Francis described "excessive planning and functionalism" and "bad coordination," demonstrating a lack of teamwork and collaboration. Collaboration is required to function efficiently and effectively. Establishing clearly defined roles and processes as well as metrics to measure progress will help define accountability and progress.

Pope Francis’ leadership style demonstrates a commitment to improving the culture of his organization. Like so many leaders looking to make changes in the culture of their organization, he’s got a tough job ahead of him but he’s clearly committed to the mission and to creating a healthy culture in the Vatican.


Read other AdvancingWellness blogs on Workplace Culture of Well-being

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.