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Threatening to Resign

If we express our intention to disobey a morally offensive order, or disobey one and are overridden, we must be as prepared to resign in protest as we are prepared to resign should our own breach of trust warrant it. The implicit power to withdraw support is one of the powers that permits a follower to influence events. It is always present and is usually unstated. In organizations where followers have served leaders for a protracted time, the follower’s continued loyalty may be taken for granted. If a leader does not treat seriously the need for change, a follower may need to exercise that power to withdraw support through an explicit warning.

Not only must we tell leaders how we feel, but we must tell them how intensely we feel about issues that concern us. In collections of people that are not true groups, individuals will just leave if they are discontented. They do not engage in uncomfortable, energy-demanding confrontation. In a true group, members will speak up clearly and forcefully before exercising the option to leave.

The warning of impending resignation, if not used lightly, is one of the legitimate ways to voice the depth of our concern. If we are viewed as a loyal follower, the fact that we would consider leaving over the issue strengthens the impact of what we are saying.

“I must advise you this is a decision I cannot live with. I believe it places our people at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.”

“I need to be clear about this. I will not be able to go along with that approach as I believe it violates our basic principles.”

“If we cannot agree to modify our position, regretfully I will need to resign as I cannot be party to it.”

When fundamental values conflict, when core policy differences are not treated seriously, or when transformation efforts deteriorate to lip service, threatening to withdraw support is an important moral tool. If we communicate that the potential consequences of these conditions include our resignation, we may elevate an issue so it is viewed with sufficient gravity for change to occur. And if we don’t succeed, the situation has been unmistakably clarified and can inform our decision to stay or leave.