The most interesting resignations can be borne of the more mundane problems. Corruption and sexual scandal have a shock value, but the resignations themselves are pretty straightforward affairs: did you / didn’t you, or did you know / didn’t you know. By contrast, Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation on Friday is being pored over in depth, both for his motives and the likely impact on the government.
From the perspective of organisational life, the key dynamic is the extent to which IDS’ role as Work and Pensions Secretary was becoming impossible. Leaders in any role can feel compromised by forces or actors outside their remit, whether it’s a question of personal ethics, the principles that uphold our profession, or the integrity of a project that we care about. Rather than simply put up or shut up, I’d suggest there are three broad options.
I make no judgement here on the rights or wrongs of Iain Duncan Smith's position. Nonetheless, hearing him on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show, I think he gave a good performance as someone who has done all he reasonably can for his cause. The critique that his resignation over welfare reform was a distraction and his real motive to strengthen the Brexit movement felt much weaker after his impassioned interview. Sticking to the subject, he talked about his deep concern that the government has lost sight of its principles and lost its direction on the fair distribution of welfare. He explained that he was unable to influence his agenda, felt unable to watch impassively and now wanted the government to think again. He stated his general support for his leadership, perhaps the least convincing part of what he said, but more convincingly, with clenched fists, emphasised his driver as the desire to help improve the quality of life for those who are worse off.
It will go down as a politically important resignation, being so close to a referendum. But my bet is that it will also be remembered as an honest resignation, that of a person of integrity who has taken the dance with their organisation as far as they can.
Reference: Simon Baddeley and Kim James (1987). Owl, Fox, Donkey or Sheep: Political Skills for Managers. Management Education and Development. Vol. 18 (1), pp. 3-19.
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