Though moral action does not always require leaving a group or organization, it always implies the potential of leaving if the offending situation is not corrected or, indeed, if we ourselves have offended the core values of the group. Therefore, we must examine the dynamics of contemplating leaving a group, whether as a natural act of growth or as the outcome of taking a moral stand.
Merging and separating are two of the most basic acts of life. At different stages of our lives and relationships we join or we leave others. From birth to death this is a profound act. In the middle there may be loves found and lost, loyalties given and withdrawn, positions occupied and abandoned.
Giving part of ourselves to another is a fundamental act of family, groups, and society. The ability to reclaim that part of ourselves is equally fundamental. Faced with the death of a beloved spouse, we need to find a way to again live without the other. Faced with an abusive spouse, we need to find a way to extricate ourselves from the damaging relationship and make our own way in the world. When we outgrow a group, or when it stagnates and we cannot rejuvenate it, or when it betrays our loyalty, we need to move on to other groups that can fill our needs and utilize our contributions.
Each of these acts requires courage. For better or worse, the known is predictable; the unknown is not. Can we succeed, or even survive, when we leave the familiar situation? We don’t know until we try. There are many valid reasons for a courageous follower to separate from a leader, ranging from the benign to the life-threatening.
The most benign, natural reason to move on is growth. Leaders mentor us; we learn and grow. At some point we are ready to move from under their shadow. We are ready to seek other mentors, to test what we have learned, to serve in ways we have discovered we were meant to serve, or to explore what those ways might be.
We may admire or even love the leader. But it is time to go. It is time to better define ourselves independently, even if doing so proves to be preparation for returning to serve the leader and our common purpose in new ways.
As stewards of the purpose, we make detailed preparations to transfer responsibilities so that service to the leader and organization continues uninterrupted. We leave without a sudden rupture.
Group optimization is the reverse side of the coin of leaving for our personal growth; it means the leader and organization may need to grow. Sometimes a leader needs fresh input. The loyalty and experience of long-serving followers may be outweighed by a stasis of new ideas. A calcification of methods serves the common purpose poorly.
A time may come when we sense the organization’s need for new blood. Or it is pointed out to us by others. A courageous follower acknowledges when this is true, recognizing that the right infusion can rejuvenate the leader and organization. The challenge is to accept this passage as a natural flow of life, not as a personal failing; to take advantage of the opportunity to examine our own needs and explore new ways to better meet these.
When members of a high-performance team separate for reasons of personal growth or group optimization, and then join or form other organizations, the original group doesn’t die as much as it transforms into a living network. If the relationships have been kept healthy and the separation is done well, a new kind of power emerges from the bonds between people who are connected through their fields and across the disciplines.
If we become exhausted, we lose our ability to serve the common purpose. If we have not managed ourselves well or are being used up by a leader, we may need to separate in order to reclaim and rejuvenate ourselves.
The nurturing a follower receives from a leader does not have to be equal to that which a follower gives a leader, but it must be present and meaningful. If it is not and we are unsuccessful at changing this, the self-responsible act may be to leave.
Courageous followership is principled followership. If we have failed to serve the common purpose in some important way, we must be willing to resign the position given us in trust. If a leader is failing to serve the common purpose in some important way, and will not recognize or change this, courageous followers may need to tender their resignation as the only principled option available.
The need to leave, especially as a principled act, is not difficult to grasp intellectually or morally, but it can nevertheless appear daunting and take time to accept. We need to prepare ourselves for the eventuality.