Papal Pullback

Breaking six centuries of precedent is always going to make some news. Pope Benedict, after eight years in office, has announced that he will retire at the end of the month, marking the first papal resignation since Gregory XII in 1415.

“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” the Pope said in a statement. Whether he’ll continue to have any active role in the church isn’t yet clear.

Benedict’s decision has been met with surprise—in some cases dismay, but in many cases approval. “There is something profound and endearing about someone elected (anointed?) to an incredibly powerful lifetime job deciding, with years still left, to walk away,” Marc Ambinder wrote in The Week. “That in and of itself is a powerful example to set for everyone.”

Peter Drucker could not have agreed more. While Drucker stayed actively employed into his 10th decade of life as a writer, teacher and consultant, he felt that the nature of one’s work must change with age.

“The basic rule, and one that should be clearly established and firmly enforced, is that people beyond their early 60s should ease out of major managerial responsibilities,” Drucker advised in The Frontiers of Management. “It is a sensible rule for anyone, and not only for the executive, to stay out of decisions if one won’t be around to help bail out the company when the decisions cause trouble a few years down the road—as most of them do. The older executive should move into work one performs on one’s own rather than be the ‘boss.’”

Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict

Not being around to help bail out the company isn’t the only factor to consider. Other reasons for a company to institute an early-retirement (or, at least, job shift) policy include allowing junior executives to move up the ranks and preventing on-the-job declines in mental acuity.

Incipient senility is one disease of which the victim himself remains unaware until it is far advanced,” Drucker warned in The Pension Fund Revolution. “Yet if he is the ‘boss,’ no one can force out the aging man at the top. Only mandatory retirement can do that.”

Drucker recommended “impartial and frequent medical checkups” for people in high positions to ensure that they were up to the job. But he stressed that even those who are retired should be welcomed into other roles, such as “counselors” in Japan. “Even if the top man is forced out by mandatory retirement age there is no reason to forbid, or to penalize, his doing other work, perhaps going back into private law practice, working as a consultant, starting his own small business or running the chamber of commerce,” Drucker wrote.

No word yet on whether Pope Benedict is interested in a job with the chamber of commerce.

Do you think easing people out of senior management roles after they hit 60 is good policy?