Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Partners

from, Chapter 65: On the Prior of the Monastery

It happens all too often that the constituting of a Prior gives rise to grave scandals in monasteries. For there are some who become inflated with the evil spirit of pride and consider themselves second Abbots. By usurping power they foster scandals and cause dissensions in the community. Especially does this happen in those places where the Prior is constituted by the same Bishop or the same Abbots who constitute the Abbot himself. What an absurd procedure this is can easily be seen; for it gives the Prior an occasion for becoming proud from the very time of his constitution, by putting the thought into his mind that he is freed from the authority of his Abbot: "For," he will say to himself, "you were constituted by the same persons who constitute the Abbot." From this source are stirred up envy, quarrels, detraction, rivalry, dissensions and disorders. For while the Abbot and the Prior are at variance, their souls cannot but be endangered by this dissension; and those who are under them, currying favor with one side or the other, go to ruin. The guilt for this dangerous state of affairs rests on the heads of those whose action brought about such disorder.

(DISCLAIMER: The following is a fictionalized account of several meetings I actually participated years ago in while working as a CPA advising businesses on financial concerns. Any characters mentioned are truly the work of my imagination.)

I knew it would be a long meeting when the senior partner of the company I was working with turned bright red, stood up, leaned across the conference room table and punched his co-managing partner in the nose. The two were at an impasse, each refusing to budge from his position in the least, and the old gentleman had had enough. He dealt with an impossible situation in the only way that seemed to remain after attempts at persuasion had failed.

When I think back on this and similar instances I’ve witnessed, I think how they could have been avoided had any of these folks been familiar with this portion of Chapter 65 from St. Benedict’s Rule. They would have known a simple truth, in a monastery or in a business, you can’t have two bosses. Problems inevitably arise when two “equals” disagree on the proper course of action for their organization. Only confusion, disorder, and finally, failure can ensure from such a situation.

But, this isn’t the only important point to be learned from this chapter. For instance, Benedict is clear that the responsibility for a bad decision should rest with the one making the decision. I’m sure we have all worked for bosses who were more than ready to blame subordinates when some plan of theirs failed. More than likely, those are the same folks more than willing to take full credit for great successes achieved by those same subordinates. In either case, Benedict will have none of it. He sees the danger to an organization when such things occur and states firmly that those responsible for bad decisions should bear the responsibility, and the consequences, when things go wrong.

Benedict would also say that those who select lower level managers should be very careful in their choice. They should select someone who is not overly ambitious or out only for him or herself. Lower level managers should also be perfectly willing to accept pre-established limits to their new authority.

In this chapter, Benedict shows keen insight into principles of organizational behavior and management, even though he lived some 1,500 years ago. Yet, the Rule is not really intended as treatise on management. It is a guide for Christian living. Benedict sees that the poor handling of the management of the Abbey can endanger the very souls of all those involved. I think the truth of this can be seen in the incident of the two business partners I described above. The older man displayed a very high level of anger and frustration that could hardly have been good for his eternal future. It is that very type of situation that Benedict is so anxious to avoid.

Oh, you may be wondering what the argument I described above was all about. It was over whether a newly available reserved parking space should be given to the next manager in line, in accordance with long established policy, or whether it should go to the wife of the senior partner to use on her frequent trips downtown for shopping. Hardly seems like an issue to endanger your soul over, does it?

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