While welcoming the election of a new Pope for the Catholic Church and wishing him well in his onerous task, it is apt to dwell on what the event itself says about this remarkable institution and why it has survived for millennia. There were around 100 Cardinals from societies around the planet, who gathered at one spot to discuss for days and then anointed one of their peers, once a boy from a Bavarian village, to lead them for the rest of his life. The last time such a conclave happened, they chose a former quarry worker from Poland, son of an army corporal. Such egalitarianism is one feature of the Catholic Church that has not changed in all these centuries: through long wars, schisms, the feudal ages and our tumultuous modern times, it has always been a place where the capable could rise to the top, regardless of family background and inherited wealth. True, there has yet to be a black or brown Pope, but the Church is a new entrant in these regions and every Cardinal from these countries (India alone sent five) was a local boy. Hopefully, Christianity will overcome this too.
This isnt the only lesson from St Peters Basilica for those interested in the art of management. The Roman Church probably has the flattest hierarchy in the world among any system, global or local. From top to bottom, both inclusive, theres no more than five tiers: between the priest and the Pope, theres only the bishop, the archbishop and the cardinal. This is the structure in 2005 with 1.1 billion followers. It was no different in 1905, or in 1005. The Popes encyclicals go all the way down.
And for a system which seems to be all about hierarchy, theres remarkable flexibility. Some countries have a primate, others do not, with cardinals and archbishops overseeing geographically distinct areas; some missions within a country report to Rome, others do not. The church doesnt seem to mind overlapping lines, if it works reasonably okay and theres no ambiguity on where the buck finally stops. Perhaps our B-schools could pick a lesson or two in management by studying what makes Benedicts church grow.