To start with, it is hard to imagine any other organization on earth in which the leader/CEO would still be around after such a long sequence of disastrous, morally and ethically wrong decisions. It certainly helps to be the lineal descendant of one of the 12 disciples and to be officially infallible, but there is also a more prosaic management and organizational matter involved.
I want to be absolutely clear: I am not blaming the fact of the Vatican’s pedophile crisis on the Pope. But the Vatican leadership, including the Pope, has clearly failed to understand, respond to, and solve the worst moral and organizational crisis to hit the Church in centuries — and the leadership allowed the crisis to fester and grow for decades. Aren’t leaders supposed to anticipate crises or at least cope with them? And isn’t it absolutely clear that the Church would be far better off if this crisis had been handled firmly and courageously a long time ago?
With no intent to understate — or make normal — the moral and criminal acts committed by those in the church who preyed on children, this kind of managerial blindness is a problem for mission-driven organizations — ones that on the one hand have an overarching social purpose and on the other hand accomplish that purpose through your basic run of the mill bureaucracies. Great NGO’s, universities, governments, political movements all have a tendency to get their mission and their management confused, to hide behind their missions, to see criticism or even commentary as attacks on the mission. The mission becomes a permanently available excuse for managerial failures that have nothing to do with the mission. There is a tendency for these kinds of organizations to act as though they are entitled — it is enough that we mean to do good, it doesn’t matter as much how we go about it.
All organizations are prone to this kind of thinking. But, for example, businesses are a little less prone. It is hard to put forth your “calling” to make widgets as an excuse for your bad management. And what always marks out really great businesses for me is the intensity of concern at the top for how they manage themselves. You do not see this anywhere near as often with mission driven organizations.
The fact is that obsession for the mission does not by itself mean much of anything for what is actually accomplished. That depends on boring issues such as management, and accountability. And when there are problems, using the mission as an excuse never solves the problems and always, always hurts the mission.
Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Braintruster Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.