Integrity Matters
August 4 , 2004

Resignation tests the organization, its leadership

Question: (E-127)

Dear Jim:

I am a board member of a nonprofit. A manager resigned in a bit of a temper tantrum, gave no notice, and the resignation was accepted. She later regretted her precipitous action, apologized and asked to be rehired. What should we do?


Leadership is and probably always will be an art that integrates insight, sensitivity, timing and perseverance -- combining the challenge to be the best we can be with the realities of our shortcomings. Your board position requires you to assess the values and operating principles as they apply here. When tempers flare, usually something happens that is not constructive. Yours is a corporate (not-for-profit) issue, and in all likelihood, the integrity of the organization's culture will be tested by how your leader and your board handle this. Please keep these five points in mind:

  • If the individual is allowed to rejoin the team, you could be considered a compassionate, forgiving and supportive organization -- or an organization that tolerates unprofessional behaviors by key people.
  • You may even communicate a lack of professional standards that sanction similar behaviors by others, now and in the future.
  • If there are no consequences for the destructive "tantrum-like" behaviors, your organization sets in motion a set of cultural permissions that will not lead to long-term health for any of your valuable stakeholders: clients, donors, employees, board members or community observers.
  • You may want to spend some time with the executive who was treated to the angry resignation followed by the contrition and learn what circumstances precipitated this. If there is a common-sense explanation, then the board has an easier job. What does the executive believe is the best action to be taken for all parties involved? The board then chooses to support or challenge his or her recommendation. Therein lies the real positive impact of the problem: This crisis is the opportunity for the board to help fine-tune the organization's leadership. Further, employees will now know, regardless of how you respond, that there are serious consequences for immature behavior -- from whatever quarter such actions emerge.
  • Remember, first and always, that people make mistakes. They under react and they overreact. If they make the error once, it is a mistake.

If they repeat the same counterproductive action, it is a pattern. Be aware. If they act the same destructive way a third time, it is a habit, and habits are extremely difficult to change.

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