- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

Pope Francis’ description of the 15 diseases of the Catholic Church administration apparatus (Curia) says a lot about the universal traps of human organizations

Pope Francis, spiritual leader to 1.2 billion people, likes ‘to call a cat a cat’. He has gained a world cat-naming reputation received with an equal mixture of excitement and joy, including non-religious people and bewilderment and even panic, the latter mainly by his own administrative structure in Rome, or Curia. He likes to make off the cuff remarks, whilst all his predecessors waited 100 years before deciding that it was time to pontificate on something (and this word comes from Pontiff, as used to refer to Popes, which in Latin means ‘maker of bridges’). I believe that the most difficult job on earth must be the one of Head of Communications for the Vatican. Francis is Authentically Disruptive [1].

I am bringing this here because, one Christmas time, Francis, in a well prepared speech, launched his ‘15 diseases of the Curia’, in front of all of the most senior people in the Catholic Church. Leaving aside religious belief and context for these words, these 15 illnesses that he identified, tells us a lot about the universality of the pathology in any big organization of any kind.  Here they are in his own words and a little comment by me.

1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable. “A Curia that doesn’t criticize itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.” OK, so this is self-criticism, critical thinking and a bit of humility. Corporates? Yes please. We know about this. Groupthink? Yes, we can.

2) Working too hard. “Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.” OK. Work life balance Vatican version, equally applies to the average business organization.

3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened. “It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.” Here we have a version of social and emotional intelligence. Leadership 2021 needs this at the top of the agenda.

4) Planning too much. “Preparing things well is necessary, but don’t fall into the temptation of trying to close or direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is bigger and more generous than any human plan.” OK, we, in corporations, have sometimes over-analytic processes and systems that become ritualistic and suck most of the energy, shaping and in-wards culture. Airtime is limited. 80% inwards looking, only leaves 20% outwards. Some parallels? Yes Sir,

5) Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise. “When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head ‘I’m in charge.’ This is the ‘big company syndrome’ that I had referred to in my ‘You must understand, we are a big company’ true story.

6) Having “spiritual Alzheimer’s”. “We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.” These words have a precise religious context but it applies equally to other types of ‘Alzheimers’ in which management practices become insensitive to the nature of a ‘human being’.

7) Being rivals or boastful. “When one’s appearance, the colour of one’s vestments or honorific titles become the primary objective of life.” OK, this is corporate and leadership egos. You and I see this all the time.

8) Suffering from “existential schizophrenia”. “It’s the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy that is typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill. It’s a sickness that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and concrete people.”  I don’t know how to put it better in corporate speak.

9) Committing the “terrorism of gossip”. “It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.” One of my 30 Disruptive Ideas [2] from the book of the same title, and our Accelerator at The Chalfont Project [3] read ‘Go to source, decrease the noise’. In any organization there are Noise Amplifiers and Noise Cancelling people. That he has chosen to use a dramatic term such as ‘terrorism’ to refer to gossip, says something about his brave stance.

10) Glorifying one’s bosses. “It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, they honour people who aren’t God.” Mmm, should I bother to comment?

11) Being indifferent to others. “When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.” This is a serious sign of organizational toxicity, sometimes one of my Broken Windows  [4]signs.

12) Having a “funereal face”. “In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity. The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes.” This is a favourite theme of his: in his view, religious practice does not need to be like going to a permanent funeral. Some organizational cultures are a bit like that, a type described by the great and late C.K.Prahalad [5] as the ‘Calcutta in summer’ situation, that I have referred to in ‘The Abandon Hope’ organization [6].

13) Wanting more. “When the apostle tries to fill an existential emptiness in his heart by accumulating material goods, not because he needs them but because he’ll feel more secure.” Much has been written about the corporate culture of greed. When is enough enough?

14) Forming closed circles that seek to be stronger than the whole. “This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad scandals especially to our younger brothers.” In my consulting experience with organizations I have very often found the desire by leaders to create ‘One company’, where ‘the whole’ is priority, and where sense of belonging goes beyond your function, or area, or division, or country. Needless to say we all, you and I, tackle this with different degrees of success.

15) Seeking worldly profit and showing off. “It’s the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others.” Comments unnecessary!

Although it all makes sense, it should not be ‘unexpected’ by somebody in my profession, it did surprise me to have this diagnosis in front of my eyes. It seems that putting people together, growing to a certain size and spreading titles, jobs and role descriptions, ends up in some sort of common pathway.

I would really welcome to see any CEO of a sizable company to stand in front of his top 200 and ‘call a cat a cat’ in the same way.