The bottom line of followership is that we are responsible for our decision to continue or not to continue following a leader. Even in extremis, we have the choice of supporting an anathema to our values or not. This is the Nuremberg trials principle. The fact that we are following orders absolves us from nothing. Of course this choice is made in the context of our full values structures. Competing values, such as love for and responsibility to our family, may make the choice difficult, even excruciating, but we always have choices and are responsible for the ones we make.
If we have honestly examined ourselves and energetically worked to help a leader transform, yet still find a significant gap between a leader’s actions and our core values, we have to give very serious consideration to withdrawing our support. Commitment is central to a relationship, but does not necessarily bind us if the relationship is stagnant or destructive despite our energetic efforts to improve it.
When the relationship principles examined in this guide fail to help a leader maintain a balanced use of power, the difficulty may stem from psychological roots that are beyond the reach of a follower’s influence. It is critical that we recognize when our ability to influence a situation has been exceeded, when withdrawal is the appropriate course.
The duty to withdraw support increases in proportion to the egregiousness of the violation of values and our proximity to the leader. Our responsibility as close followers is great because often only the inner circle sees the leader’s true values at an early stage; others may still see only the public persona. We can protect a values-deficient leader and allow him to amass power, or we can strip away the camouflage we are providing.
When courageous followers withdraw support from a leader, it will help to bear in mind the following:
If we are among the first in a group to withdraw support, we will need the conviction of our values, confidence in our powers of observation, and the courage to maintain our isolated position.
When we separate from a leader we must also question whether the common purpose we shared with the leader is valid.
If the purpose is valid, we must examine our commitment to it independent of our relationship with the leader and identify other ways, consistent with our commitment, of pursuing that purpose.
We will add to the emotional and material cost of separation if we continue supporting a cause out of unexamined habit, or abandon a cause, organization, or project that is close to our heart.
If we leave and later events prove we were wrong about the leader, we should use the experience to learn more about our relationships with leaders, but we should never berate ourselves for having had the courage to act on our convictions.
When we withdraw support, we may need to come to terms with many things, including why we gave our support for as long as we did, what actions we took in the name of the cause or activity, and any sense of loss and regret. None of this is easy, but it is far preferable to compounding the situation by lacking the courage to withdraw from it.