Pope John Paul Ii: International Diplomacy and Parallelism to Strategic Management

By O'Connor, Bernard J. | Academy of Strategic Management Journal, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Pope John Paul Ii: International Diplomacy and Parallelism to Strategic Management

O'Connor, Bernard J., Academy of Strategic Management Journal


Strategic management objectively appeals to expertise from every sector of society. For example, a publication sponsored by the Drucker Institute cites the importance of an organizational practice associated with the governance of the Catholic Church. Religious issues here aside, the following study explores the legitimacy of that kind of correlation. It examines strategic management literature during the past decade and identifies several of the traits which most characterize the strategic management process. These traits are then analyzed by comparison to the series of addresses presented by Pope John Paul II to ambassadors and other representatives of the international diplomatic community during 2001. One recalls that there are some 172 diplomatic constituencies accredited to the Vatican. What the study makes apparent is that there is a high degree of parallelism between how the Pope encourages the application of principles and mechanisms relevant to international relations, and how strategic managers regularly advocate their vision for organizational efficiency and development. While the overlap may be surprising to some, its being a clearly demonstrated fact verifies the long-held academic belief that formal theory is capable of significant expansion well beyond the boundaries of its originating context.


The Harvard Management Development Program, a project of the Graduate School of Education, seeks to familiarize university administrators with managerial expertise from diverse organizations. These include the non-profit sector, fund-raising specialists, CEOs of major corporations, religion-based enterprises and governmental agencies and interest groups. A fundamental theory of the curriculum is that strategic management efforts in a given context become vastly more successful when there is willingness to examine the competence exhibited by influential organizations of a sharply contrasting variety. As a participant in MDP-2002, I observed an application of that theory during a session which discussed "High Performing Teams." To illustrate a distinct organizational approach, the guest presenter from Babson's College of Business referred to baseball teams ("loosely integrated confederations"), football (where "players perform in close proximity") and basketball (with "rapidly moving transitions....highly reciprocal"). From that perspective, we were invited to analyze "the nature....of task-related interaction among unit members" of a hypothetical commercial venture. The realm of sports enabled our discussion about the improvement of coordination within an international pharmaceutical firm (Bolman and Deal, 1997, 87-91).

The theme of this essay emerged in response to encouragement from the MDP directorship, and for which I am profoundly grateful. I had noticed that in one of our recommended readings, The Leader of the Future, there was an unexpected reference (F. Hasselbein et al., ed., 1996, 4). When speaking about how "a higher-order body should not assume responsibilities" which more properly belong to an organization's lower tier, the author, Charles Handy, states that this conviction - perhaps the most important one in strategic management - was directly borrowed from the Catholic Church's concept of subsidiarity. Essentially, the Church shares in the belief "that stealing people's responsibilities is wrong because it ultimately deskills them." Let the world of business be mindful, Handy asserts.

I found it remarkable that a thoroughly secular scholar would be so objectively broadminded that he could take what is arguably the politically incorrect step of appealing to a specific tenet of Catholicism. In support of the accuracy of Dr. Handy, I read with interest that Pope John Paul II once reminded the Ambassador of Mexico that in Mexico, indeed in all countries, "public institutions....should be connected in a way that respects....subsidiarity (May 18, 2001).

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