Papal Pullback

Posted on Feb 11, 2013 | 7 Comments

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?


  1. Elliot DeBear
    February 12, 2013

    While a huge fan of Peter Drucker, I’m not sure he would have necessarily taken the same position, or as definitive a postion, had he witnessed today’s economy. The need to work into their 60′s vs. simply the desire to work is a issue many are having to deal with in the face of out of control health costs, high cost to fund college educations for their children, the increased need to help out parents and necessity to build equity in retirement funds that for many are not enough to cover the span of retirement years.
    Yes, older executive, especially those who are financially fit, should make way for the next generation, but for those who live to work, and need to work, they should be able to continue to do so as long as they are still delivering to the bottom line in terms of achieving set goals.

  2. P. Summa
    February 12, 2013

    The concept is valid; the borderline age range may move from culture to culture based on other factors

  3. Richard Straub
    February 16, 2013

    The key point that the pope is just a human being is important to make. To act as CEO and president of a non-profit organization with 1 billion members is not a small task. It is combining both – spiritual leadership and management.

    The move of the pope is a wake up call for the Catholic Church to deal with questions of effective organization and leadership to achieve its mission. As Drucker observed many times the Catholic Church was one of the very few organizations that existed before we evolved into a “Society of Organizations”. They were pioneers in a global legal and governance framework as well in an interesting blend of centralization and decentralization. The principle of subsidiarity has emerged from the social thought of the church (Pope Pius XI, 1931 introduced the principle of subsidiarity in his Encyclical entitled, Quadragesimo Anno) and been adopted by constitutions not least the European Treaty. The Church was also pioneer in thinking deeply about the dignity of human work (Laborem Exercens, John Paul II) – a key subject fo Peter Ducker. Why is it then that the Catholic Church is ignored and even despised in its traditional “home turf”? The human failings and scandals relating to priests cannot provide the full answer.
    The Church is neither organized nor managed in a way that it can achieve the value in line with its mission, There is a huge gap between the richness of its though (in particular in the social area) and the image it has in public.

    Rick Warren, the head of the immensely successful Sattelback Church has been a disciple of Peter Drucker. Other evangelical churches are winning “market share” as we speak.

    Will the Catholic Church take up the challenge launched (indirectly) by Pope Benedict and take a close look at its management system, at its leadership approach and communication strategy – to become fit for the 21st century?

  4. Maverick 18
    February 16, 2013

    There is an old British comedy album that has a dialog entitled “Why I’d rather be a judge than a miner.” The premise is that when a miner grows too old, sick, tired or stupid to do his job, the mine owners won’t let him back in the mine. “Not so in the guild halls (court houses),” says the old miner.

    In the US, Federal judges are appointed for life and there have been instances where some judges have been noticibly less effective or less competent as their age progressed. However, there have also been brilliant decisions rendered by older judges who carry heavy workloads.

    The idea that leadership abilities diminish with advancing age may have some merit, but with more people staying healthy and working longer 75 may be the new sixty. A policy that establishes any arbitrary restriction on employment that is age related and cannot be factually supported is simply age discrimination.

    Pope Benedict has set an interesting example. He had an outstanding record of service to the Church and had tried to retire while he was still a Cardinal. He was not in good health when he was elected as Pope, but took on the responsibilities and continued to work hard, while his health deteriorated. Finally, as head of the Church, he has announced his retirement for good reasons, and no board or conclave can counter his decision. Perhaps he should be remembered as Benedict the Wise.

  5. Greg Zerovnik
    February 16, 2013

    People live longer today; and not just “survive,” but continue to grow intellectually. Some people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s should never be allowed to become leaders. Some people in their 70s and 80s should continue to lead so long as their followers concur. In the end, after all, a leader with no followers is no leader.

  6. Daniel Pacheco
    February 17, 2013

    40 not 60 is the new age of retirement. Due to turbulent change and rapid obsolescence of knowledge the new age of retirement for human dinosaurs is 40. The only way to avoid redundancy at 40 is to learn new knowledge and skills that are emerging and was not in existence when you were in school or college or even there in your workplace five years back.

  7. What Peter Drucker Would Be Reading | The Drucker Exchange | Daily Blog by The Drucker Institute
    February 20, 2013

    [...] Dx Comment of the Week: Last week, we examined the retirement of Pope Benedict and asked whether people agreed with Peter Drucker’s recommendation that CEOs—as opposed to [...]


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