Tom Ur­ba­niak of­fers ad­vice for all those cling­ing to power.

Know­ing how and when to re­sign, stay or tran­si­tion

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON - Tom Ur­ba­niak Po­lit­i­cal In­sights Tom Ur­ba­niak is a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Cape Breton Univer­sity. He wel­comes the ex­change of ideas and can be reached at tom_ur­ba­niak@cbu.ca .

As an act of sol­i­dar­ity with her mem­bers, and in def­er­ence to the griev­ances of Nova Sco­tia’s teach­ers, Li­ette Doucet should have re­signed as pres­i­dent of the Nova Sco­tia Teach­ers Union.

By rec­om­mend­ing three un­palat­able con­tracts, the union lead­er­ship and bar­gain­ing com­mit­tee mis­judged the grav­ity of mem­bers’ con­cerns. In these cir­cum­stances, re­sign­ing would have been an hon­ourable and re­spectable act. It would not have been a dis­grace to Doucet or her fel­low ex­ec­u­tives. On the con­trary.

But re­sign­ing would also have re­freshed the union and kept the gov­ern­ment on its toes.

The art of know­ing how and when to re­sign is a lost art, to the detri­ment of our pol­i­tics, our or­ga­ni­za­tions and our com­mu­ni­ties. Too many peo­ple are cling­ing to power when they shouldn’t. And too many oth­ers are walk­ing away very abruptly and grace­lessly, putting their or­ga­ni­za­tions at risk and ig­nor­ing the tran­si­tion.

I think there are five rules to take into con­sid­er­a­tion:

1. Main­tain the es­sen­tial con­fi­dence of your mem­bers and know if you have lost it.

2. Don’t sac­ri­fice your soul. You may need to re­sign be­cause of your con­science.

3. What­ever the cir­cum­stances, en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion. Men­tor other lead­ers and be avail­able af­ter­wards.

4. Don’t hoard power. Let oth­ers lead with you and be trans­par­ent in or­der to en­sure re­silience once you leave.

5. But in the face of im­me­di­ate dis­as­ter, the “cap­tain” is the last one off the ship.

Main­tain­ing “es­sen­tial con­fi­dence” does not mean that ev­ery­thing you do has to be voted on by ev­ery­one. But it means be­ing ac­count­able and in­clu­sive. It means a lot of lis­ten­ing. A ma­jor mis­cal­cu­la­tion on a cen­tral is­sue (like the teach­ers’ con­tracts) could be a sign that the con­fi­dence is se­verely shaken.

Politi­cians and lead­ers of or­ga­ni­za­tions hold po­si­tions of ser­vice. As such, they should have core prin­ci­ples. When forced to en­dorse con­trary core prin­ci­ples, a res­ig­na­tion could be in or­der, al­beit stated with hu­mil­ity and dig­nity.

I was struck by some­thing in “The Young Politi­cian,” Don­ald Creighton’s splen­did first-vol­ume bi­og­ra­phy of John A. Macdon­ald.

It was the rel­a­tive fre­quency and elo­quence with which min­is­ters of the Crown in pre-Con­fed­er­a­tion Canada did the hon­ourable thing by step­ping aside. They did so when they no­ticed that con­fi­dence in their min­istry was evap­o­rat­ing – or when there was a ma­jor cab­i­net mea­sure that they sim­ply could not sup­port in good con­science. Pol­i­tics had to be about a higher pur­pose.

But some­times it’s not one is­sue or con­tro­versy that should lead some­one to step down. It’s re­al­iz­ing that new lead­er­ship will bring new vigour. When Pope Bene­dict XVI took the re­mark­able step in 2013 of re­sign­ing while still liv­ing, the first time a pope had re­tired in al­most 600 years, he spoke frankly and humbly of his re­cent weari­ness. He re­ferred to “my in­ca­pac­ity to ad­e­quately ful­fill the min­istry en­trusted to me.”

I have seen too many lead­ers of or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions, who are al­most jeal­ous that their suc­ces­sors might ac­tu­ally do a good job. Don’t they re­al­ize that it would re­flect well on them? Hand­ing over the reins grace­fully and smoothly to a suc­ces­sor who suc­ceeds is a mark of ma­ture lead­er­ship.

Whether be­cause of jeal­ousy or lack of re­flec­tion, some tran­si­tions that should be nor­mal tran­si­tions in nor­mal times are too abrupt. There is no ad­vance no­tice. There has been no cul­ti­va­tion of other lead­ers and lit­tle pre­vi­ous shar­ing of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to help oth­ers gain ex­pe­ri­ence.

A leader who leaves too much of a void or vac­uum has fallen short.

The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor here – whether re­sign­ing, stay­ing or tran­si­tion­ing – is a sense of duty to the peo­ple we serve.

I re­cently in­vited my stu­dents to re­flect on the film Sully. It’s about the cap­tain who safely and skill­fully landed his plane on the Hud­son River in crowded New York af­ter a ma­jor mal­func­tion.

Of course, he was the last one off in the face of im­me­di­ate dis­as­ter. The whole episode is a bit of a me­taphor for lead­er­ship: calm and in­de­pen­dent judg­ment, smart con­sul­ta­tion with oth­ers, de­vo­tion to his pas­sen­gers and hu­mil­ity.

“I want you to know, I did the best I could,” re­marked Cap­tain Ch­es­ley Sul­len­berger (aka “Sully”). We know that we’ve had a good run, and a good life, if we can say the same about our­selves with all sin­cer­ity.

“Too many peo­ple are cling­ing to power when they shouldn’t.”

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