The Church’s Choice

For the first time in a millennium or so, a candidate from a non-European land has ascended to the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was named today as the 266th pope, and he will now be known as Pope Francis.

As we noted last week, the church has been going through a particularly rough period—much of it of its own making.  But even in the best of times, picking successors is tricky business, as Peter Drucker liked to point out. So has the church picked the right man for the job?

Coat of arms of Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Coat of arms of Jorge Mario Bergoglio

In one respect, the papal conclave was on the right track even before it started. That’s because outgoing Pope Benedict didn’t get to pick his successor, and as Drucker warned (and we’ve pointed out before) no one should ever pick his or her own successor because that tends to produce weak clones. “The old rule both in military organizations and in the Catholic Church is that leaders don’t pick their own successors,” Drucker observed. “They’re consulted, but they don’t make the decision.”

The choice of Bergoglio also signals the church’s awareness of the importance of the Southern Hemisphere and the developing world to the church’s future. This signals not only the immense rate of population growth in non-European countries, something Drucker recognized, but also their increasing clout.

The centers of the world economy have shifted away from the developed countries,” Drucker acknowledged in his 2002 book Managing in the Next Society. “In the last two decades, the developed countries have not done particularly well; but world trade and production have boomed as never before, with the bulk of the growth occurring in emerging countries.”

Finally, early indications are that Bergoglio himself lives by some of Drucker’s precepts. In his speech to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square today, Pope Francis asked for the people to pray for him. “Now, let’s start working together, walking together in the Church of Rome,” he told them, adding that he hoped God would “help me to be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.”

Drucker would have approved of this sort of leadership, as we can see from a rule he spelled out in Managing the Nonprofit Organization. “Keep your eye on the task, not on yourself,” Drucker wrote. “The task matters, and you are a servant.”

What do you think? Did the Roman Catholic Church make a good leadership decision today?