What can HR learn from the Pope’s resignation?

Last week, we heard the news that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to step down after nearly eight years as head of the Catholic Church. His resignation – which will take effect from 28th February – has come as a huge shock to Catholics around the world, particularly as such a situation hasn’t occurred since the Middle Ages. So can HR take anything from this?

Whilst this may not be a typical business environment, the Pope’s decision to leave has brought about the same challenges that we’ve seen in previous resignations, for instance with the likes of Steve Jobs and Marcus Agius. The unexpected loss of any leader creates a great need to find the best talent to replace them, but at the same time fill the position as quickly as possible. The papacy is now expected to be vacant for around a month, which clearly isn’t an ideal situation and highlights the importance of having a succession plan in place.

Given that this is the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years, it’s perhaps not surprising that there was no preparation. But, whilst it may seem impossible to plan for the unexpected because you can never really know what’s around the corner, out of the blue events can have a major impact. As such, it’s fundamental to have a robust succession plan in place that can spring into action if the worst should happen, ensuring that you can maintain a sustainable talent pipeline.

The Pope’s resignation also raises another interesting issue though. He recognised that, due to age and declining health, he was no longer able to fulfil his duties to the best of his ability. As such, he made the brave decision to step down in order to ensure the success of the Catholic Church, which brings about an important point of knowing when to draw the line.

At a&dc, we recognise the importance of having strong and resilient leaders. Senior figures need to be able to respond effectively to the constant demands and pressures of their roles. And this isn’t only applicable to individuals in top positions in a company, but is relevant to any job where there is regular pressure to deliver results and the potential for setbacks along the way. If the key skills are lacking, for instance due to poor health, there’s a great need for individuals to recognise this and step down.

News Archive February 2013