On one level, the basics of onboarding a pope are the same as those for onboarding any senior leader – it’s about aligning, acquiring, accommodating, assimilating, and accelerating progress. Still, every situation is different with it’s own special needs and considerations. This is acutely true for onboarding the new pope.


emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Fr...

Papal Emblem – Photo credit: Wikipedia

Onboarding starts with a new leader’s boss making sure the organization agrees on the need for a new leader and the delineation of the role to be filled.

Special needs and considerations with the new pope:

  • The new pope’s boss has his own way of aligning people.
  • This is the first time since 1415 that anyone other than the pope’s boss has known the timing for the ascension of the new pope in advance.

Key stakeholders should resolve to take advantage of this foreknowledge to discuss and debate future direction.


Identify, recruit, select and convince the new leader to join the team. Everything communicates; and every step of this is part of onboarding.

Special needs and considerations with the new pope:

  • Identifying and recruiting are already complete.
  • This selection committee has its own way of choosing a new pope – with the new pope a member of the committee.
  • The cardinal selected as the new pope won’t need any convincing to take the role.

Even though the acquisition process is already set, those participating should resolve to take all the steps seriously as they will be re-starting new relationships.


A picture taken on April 19, 2005 shows black ...

Sistine Chapel smoke: AFP/Getty Images

Give the new leader the tools he needs to do his work. Part of this is managing the announcement cascade.

Special needs and considerations with the new pope:

  • This announcement cascade will begin with a puff of white smoke.
  • With foreknowledge of timing, the papal staff can prepare in advance, getting one step ahead of the various media. And, they should resolve to do so.


Help the new leader join up with others so he can do the required work together.

Special needs and considerations with the new pope:

  • Whichever cardinal becomes pope will be well familiar with a great deal of what happens in and around the Catholic Church. He will be far less well versed in what happens behind the scenes in terms of informal relationships, hidden connections, and the special relationship between a pope and his boss. The good news is that, for the first time in 600 years, the outgoing pope can directly help the new pope learn the ropes.

All involved should resolve to help the new pope learn the informal networks.


Help the new leader and his team deliver better results faster.

Special needs and considerations with the new pope:

  • The mission is probably not about re-defining the organization’s purpose.
  • But it may be worthwhile to clarify go-forward priorities given the situation with the Church, the world, and the universe.
  • It may also be useful to re-think communication given the ever-changing media landscape.

Bottom line, what’s most important for those involved in the new pope’s onboarding is to:

  1. Take advantage of this rare gift of pre-decision/pre-start time to plan, prepare, and get a head start.
  2. Remember that everything communicates 24/7/365 forever – and that in this particular case forever is a very long time.


More on the Basics

These are just the basics. If you’re a new leader yourself, request an executive summary of our book “The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan” by clicking here. If you’re bringing someone in to work for you, request a summary of our Onboarding” book by clicking here. Or, to read about each step in The New Leader’s Playbook, click here. Now there is no excuse not to leverage those basics.

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