December 3, 2012
We have witnessed in the recent past a number of notable resignations: The head of the CIA, General Petraeus for an extra marital affair; the incoming CEO of Lockheed Martin, Christopher Kubasik for a “close personal relationship with a subordinate employee;” Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Chase on allegations of improper sex with minors and Jesse Jackson Jr. on the alleged misuse of campaign funds.
It is regrettably that these resignations only came about only once the wrongdoing was exposed. (or was about to be exposed.) I am not aware of any situation when the perpetrator of wrongdoing voluntarily came forth, admitted his or her failings and then resigned. I guess the concept that we can “get away with it” still lingers in our subconscious mind in spite of multiple examples that attest that one way or another and sooner or later we will be held accountable for our actions.
Making the offer to resign is sometimes a gesture of selfless loyalty to the employer or a cause. I once offered my resignation to David Finn because of what I thought was my responsibility in creating a tension between the firm and a prestigious client and that my resignation would improve the relationship between the firm and the client. David refused because he did not believe I had done anything wrong that had caused that tension.
Some resignations are forced and brought about as mean to blame one person (scapegoat) for the mistakes of many. It is said that after the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961, President Kennedy told Allen Dulles the CIA director that in the UK, he would have had to resign but that in the U.S. it was Allen Dulles that had to go.
Resignations are submitted in order to avoid being fired. Maybe the most infamous of such resignations is President Richard Nixon’s in 1974. He most likely knew that he would be impeached unless he resigned.
The act of resigning can, sometimes have an ethical motivation and be a form of protest against a practice or a corporate culture that is contrary to ones’ personal values. Professor J. Patrick Dobel, of the University of Washington in his article entitled The Ethics of Resigning published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, believes that:
“Resigning from office is a critical ethical decision for individuals. Resignation also remains one of the basic moral resources for individuals of integrity. The option to resign reinforces integrity, buttresses responsibility, supports accountability, and can provide leverage and boundary drawing.” He thinks that “the moral reasons to resign flow from three related moral dimensions of integrity. Individuals in office promise to live up to the obligation of the office. This promise presumes that individuals have the capacity to make and keep promises, the competence to do the tasks of office, and the ability to be effective.”
It sometime takes great moral courage to make the right decision.
As Robert Kennedy once said: