Have you ever been asked to resign from a position? Usually by the time an employee or worker is asked to tender a resignation it means that those in authority have given up on trying to maintain a beneficial working relationship with that person. Management has abandoned all hope in the relationship. When asked to resign, an individual’s typical response is either to submit an oral or written resignation, or ask to be fired. In either situation the atmosphere is usually unpleasant and is characterized by a feeling of inevitable loss.
The dictionary definitions for the word resign are:
1. To submit (oneself) passively; accept as inevitable.
2. To give up (a position) by formal notification.
3. To relinquish (a privilege, right, or claim) To give up one’s job or office; quit, esp. by formal notification.
Resignation is usually thought of as the act, or an instance, of resigning from a position or office. However, the dictionary also says that the word resignation can mean “unresisting acceptance of something as inescapable; submission.” When we are resigned to a situation, we believe it is inevitable—that we must live with it. It is a feeling that often comes when we see no way to change a bad situation.
I suggest that for every formal act of resignation, an organization may have dozens, or even thousands of private and personal “resignations” where employees, workers, students, customers, or members of an organization simply abandon hope for positive change.
When this situation occurs with customers, they usually start doing business with a competitor. Volunteers of a nonprofit organization transfer their participation to another organization. However, when an employee faces private resignation, the situation is often not as flexible. With children to feed and bills to pay, an employee might quit their job mentally but continue to “work” physicallyfor many years. I have heard employees say “you have to leave your brain at the entrance when you come to work here.” If they could, such employees would hang a sign over the front door of their organization which would quote Dante Alighieri: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!”
Under traditional authoritarian supervision many employees give up hope and stay. Some give up hope and leave. When a person comes forth voluntarily with an unsolicited resignation, it is usually the result of that person experiencing private resignation over an extended period of time regarding important organizational issues. They have finally concluded that those in authority will never acknowledge or properly deal with the issues they consider important. They have abandoned all hope. They have no positive expectations regarding their future relationship with the organization.
Often talented younger employees choose to leave and try another organization. Those who give up and stay are often the less talented, or those who, for personal reasons, feel compelled to stay. Older employees, often with considerable experience and ability, also often choose to remain with the organization because they have tried changing jobs and discovered that they have just swapped one set of hopeless problems for another. They are now cynical and privately resigned that no organization will offer them hope!
Why would a person consider placing a sign over the entrance of their organization that contains the very same words found over the gates of Dante’s hell? It is because they see both as places of no hope. Hope is destroyed when expectations fail. When we hear leaders “talk the talk” but don’t see them “walk the walk” we experience failed expectations. Trust is then destroyed. Hope is abandoned.
Traditional authoritarian leadership is based on a Win/Lose paradigm of human interaction. Stephen Covey says that leaders with the Win/Lose leadership style “are prone to use position, power, credentials, possessions, or personality to get their way.” When people are continually on the Lose side of Win/Lose, they often begin to exhibit passive behavior. However, one danger of prolonged passive behavior is that it can lead to resentment, depression, or even physical illness. Such passive behavior may ultimately shift to behavior at the opposite extreme—aggressive behavior. Driven by months or years of hopelessness, the passive person may shift to aggressive behavior. Stephen Covey says that “disproportionate rage or anger, overreaction to minor provocation, and cynicism” can be the result of suppressed emotions. In rare cases this may even lead to employee suicide or domestic and/or work place violence.
Rather than asking for a person’s oral or written resignation, an effective leader should first consider asking for a person’s private resignations—those issues that are viewed by the employee as hopeless and not susceptible to change. Learning what the resignations of employees are often reveals the most critical and jugular issues facing the organization. Unfortunately, authoritarian leaders are usually not prepared to truly listen and accept these issues as their responsibility.
If an authoritarian leader decides to begin asking employees for their private resignations, it is very likely they will not share them. Usually the organization’s culture is so lacking in open communication and trust that the employees have already resigned themselves to the status quo. They are convinced that it will make no difference to honestly share their true private resignations. They might offer some comments to management that they feel are safe and within the realm of “discussables” in the current culture. However, they probably will remain convinced that truly opening up and being honest will just make them more vulnerable. They are well aware that there are certain topics that are “undiscussables” in the present culture. Often the most “undiscussable” issue within an organization is the issue of trust. Employees under authoritarian leaders don’t really trust their leaders—and the only trust these leaders have in their followers is that they “trust” their people will do exactly as they are told!
Authoritarian leaders will typically see nothing wrong with this situation, and will see no need for personal change. They will not seek to understand the private resignations of their followers. They will continue to seek commitment without genuine trust. The result, in the long run, is a shift to a Lose/Lose paradigm of human interaction.
We live in an interdependent reality. When we are interdependent, a “Lose” for one party ultimately translates into a “Lose” for the other. Win/Win—where both the leader and the follower consider the outcome positive—is the only viable alternative in the long run.
If one truly desires to be an effective leader—doing the right things—then open communication and trust must be built. To accomplish this there has to be a paradigm shift from Win/Lose to Win/Win. The Win/Win paradigm of human interaction is not possible to achieve when the culture offers no hope. When there is resignation and passive behavior, people feel like they are a “doormat.” They see no hope of openly stating what they really think or feel.
There is only one way to make the shift from a Win/Lose authoritarian leadership style to a Win/Win style. It is by personal change. As a leader, you must come to the place where you truly desire to trade in your traditional command-and-control style for openness and knowledge sharing. You must open yourself up to be influenced by those who have private resignations. You must desire to listen for understanding. People need to know that they are understood. They need to be affirmed, valued, and appreciated. Such affirmation should not be done in an insincere manner. Just saying the right words doesn’t make it so! As a leader, your character and behaviorspeak louder than your words. You must “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.”
Just as hope is lost when leaders do not “walk their talk,” hope can be regained over time when leaders abandon mere words and openly change their behavior. When you, as a leader, begin to see the world through the lens of Win/Win instead of Win/Lose, your attitude and behavior will begin to change. As your attitude toward others changes, they will sense a difference. Eventually, trust will be established with one or two individuals. As you prove to be trustworthy with one or two, word will begin to spread through the grapevine that there may yet be hope.
Slowly others will begin to regain hope as it becomes apparent that a new and more positive paradigm of human interaction has replaced the old. As your personal credibility increases, so will your personal influence. However, that influence will be a different kind of influence from what you had under the traditional authoritarian style of leadership. People will no longer “leave their brain at the entrance and just do what they are told” when they go to work.
Your trustworthiness and credibility, validated by the observation and experience of those who come in contact with you, will begin to unleash creative cooperation, synergy, and learning. An atmosphere of mutual trust and respect will begin to spread. You will find yourself growing in insight and learning as you listen and respect those in the rank and file. As you learn about, and address, the many private resignations within your organization, you will find yourself experiencing increased security in your own job. You will discover that there will be fewer occasions when you will need to terminate employees or ask for their written resignations. All this positive organizational change can begin once you decide to personally change and say—“I want your resignations!”
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. J. Howard Baker is Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Dr. Baker has been a Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People certified facilitator for eight years, and has served the University of Texas at Tyler as their facilitator for four years. During the summer he offers a graduate and undergraduate course at U. T. Tyler in personal and organizational leadership. He holds a B.S. in Management from Samford University, a Master of Accounting (MAcc) from the University of Southern California, and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Texas at Arlington.
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