1,500 years of leadership – Dr. Notker Wolf (Benedictine Abbot Primate)

1,500 years of leadership – Dr. Notker Wolf (Benedictine Abbot Primate)

My job as a leader is actually to be an eternal listener, to myself, and to others.

Some time ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Abbot Primate Notker Wolf in Rome. He is the highest-ranking of 25,000 Benedictine monks and nuns worldwide. I was especially curious and inspired by the question of how it can be possible to run a global organization the size of Porsche, maintain it for over 1,500 years, and still have growth on a global scale? To put this in perspective – The majority of Fortune 500 companies from the early 20th century no longer exist. Another thing I was curious about was – how does the Abbot Primate, who is elected by all Abbots worldwide, manage to oversee this huge organization? After all, abbeys are economically self-sufficient and run as self-contained entities. So, how is it possible for a leader to “lead” when he cannot demand anything, but only act as an ambassador and make appeals or offer inspiration? How does he make a difference through stimulating consciousness? – For solidarity, for community, for all forms of growth, when he has no rights to intervene? And is that the downside? Here is an excerpt from our discussion:

Stefan Götz: „I would like to close our conversation with your idea, with your approach. You say to create anxiety-free rooms or an atmosphere of freedom. Really practical, can you give me an example of how you would create such a space, such spaces of freedom?“

Notker Wolf: „If I have a meeting and there’s a problem there, then I just go over and say: Dear people, what do you think about it? Is this really a problem? This is already the first question. I can see what it is, but it can also be something else. In this way I allow people to come to me, without pressuring them to do so. There are people who think of conflicting ideas as opposition against which they have to defend themselves. The worst thing is to be defensive back. This can be an unbelievably spontaneous reaction. Change_Leader_inside_www.stefan-goetz.com_132Everyone has to work on this for him or herself. First of all, one needs to sit down quietly and listen. And then afterward, one can say: Yes, we have a problem, it’s clearly an issue, and we have a couple solutions in mind, so how shall we go on? By really integrating the others, for they also have their own minds. And for example, when it has to do with a business product, a salesperson knows ten times better how the needs of the client change over time. And there, I can respond quite differently.

My job as a leader is actually to be an eternal listener, to myself, and to others, in order to see how things should go forward. And when the others notice that you are fully integrated, and that the boss isn’t fearful of whatever dumb ideas that come up, then it is a pleasure to work together, and it functions as a society, something like a big family on the go, simply going along searching for solutions and becoming more aware of something. That’s life on this earth, and there is never a perfect solution. Once we’ve found a solution, then the problem might already be something else again. And so we must constantly remain open to this. And when I am open, then I hear.


Photo by Andreas Bröckel

weekly excerpt from the book THE NEXT WAVE IN BUSINESS
wishing you a week of listening
yours, Stefan Götz+



1 Comment

  1. Dale Domingue Author July 5, 2015 (11:36 pm)

    Excellent excerpt from your conversation and the last sentence is so poignant.