Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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A former British Prime minister observed: “The price of greatness is responsibility.“ Today the number one political leader of the country had his last say. What a fall from grace, after the resounding and unexpected victory of the last general election.

Ironically, he pulled the trigger on the bullet that actually finished his political career. Looking at his decision to step aside, it brings back to the forefront that pivotal leadership issue: when is it right to fight and cling on and when is it right to step aside. This will always be a tricky issue for any leader.

There is no formula, but there are at least two key leadership issues that determines the right attitude.

Haughtiness versus humility. Leaders will almost always find defeats disappointing. Yet a good leader will discern whether they were the cause of the defeat or the redeemer of that defeat. Not all mistakes are an immediate cause for retreat and often the leader in question might be best placed to rebuild after the mess. There is humility in stickability. Other times, the humble thing is to step aside. A good leader will look in the mirror and evaluate ruthlessly. They will chose respectable critics and weigh-up the criticism and give someone else the chance to build again.

Courage versus convenience. Rebuilding after failure is messy. The outcome will be unknown and there are no guarantees that one’s reputation might be salvaged. Dealing with criticism and even a healthy dose of doubt, can be crippling. Sometimes, the easiest route is out. But that isn’t always the most responsible. Healthy leaders undergo an honest soul searching evaluation of their motivation. If they quit because it’s easier, they should also explore a courageous alternative. A good mentor or friend could be useful sounding board in this circumstances.

The truth is that no one, maybe not even the former prime minister, or even his closest confidantes mighty now if this was the right or the wrong leadership ‘move’ or whether the motivation might have been honourable or not. One thing is sure, history and time will be fairer judges of that.

Leaders will always have to make choices. Difficult choices. And those choices determine the quality and longevity of their leadership.

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