Warren Bennis in his classic book, Why Leaders Can’t Lead: The Unconscious Conspiracy Continues, discussed the forces that impact leaders and diminished their ability to lead. Bennis knew that the...
All seasoned managers have faced this dilemma. An employee, (sometimes talented, sometimes not; sometimes experienced, sometimes not), threatens to leave if he or she does not get something they demand. It may be a promotion, a bonus, a pay increase or some other desired result. But the threat is always the same: these employees put their loyalty on the line by threatening to take their talent elsewhere if leadership does not bend to their will.
The most classic situation of this type that I have ever encountered was with a company with whom I consulted. There was an employee who was a prima donna. This person was opinionated and often emotional. The power of emotion and threat was used to get his/her way. When a decision was about to be made that the employee felt needed to go in a certain direction or there was a decision that had been made and did not align with what this employee wanted. He/she could be counted on to draw a line in the sand. The employee would go into the manager’s office making demands for the action desired. Either at that time or a little later, but almost always on a Friday afternoon, the employee would write a resignation letter stating they were resigning unless a certain action occurred. This letter was placed on the manager’s desk in time to ensure the manager would read it prior to leaving for the weekend. (The employee knew the manager’s practice was to talk to a resigning employee and that would occur the following Monday morning). Over the weekend, the employee would return to the office to retrieve and shred the resignation letter. When the manager talked to the employee the following Monday, the resignation would have been withdrawn but the demands to the action desired would be discussed in detail. This happened on multiple occasions until the manager decided the “Rubicon” had been crossed. The next time the employee engaged in these antics, the manager immediately wrote his acceptance of the resignation letter and hand carried both documents to Human Resources for processing. The resignation was processed on the spot. When the employee came back over the weekend and went into the manager’s office, the resignation letter could not be found. Instead the employee found an acceptance letter to the resignation signed by the manager.
On Monday morning the manager called the staff together to announce the resignation. At that point the employee had two weeks to find a job to replace the one that he or she had threatened to leave.
Why Is “Threatening To Resign” Anathema In An Organization And To Experienced Leadership?
First, managers recognize that this action for what it is: blackmail. The employee attempts to hold the organization at ransom in order to obtain what is desired. Once the threat of resignation has been made, the leader’s credibility is at stake. Issues are not longer paramount, who is in charge is. To succumb is to ultimately lose face with all other manager and employees.
Second, the “take my ball and go home” behavior demonstrates that these employees believe they are smarter than anyone else in the organization and they, and only they, know what is best for the whole. Rather than discuss their proposals and ideas, they demand acquiescence to their desired alternative.
Third, managers know these employees only view issues as black or white. They do not think broadly about objectives and alternatives that will produce optimal solutions. They think only in the “either-or” mentality, never the “and”.
Fourth, the manager knows that as long as this employee remains in the organization, he or she will complain and whine rather than whole-heartedly support the team and the mission The leader knows “under the radar” criticism will continue which will demean the efforts that are made and, even worse, undermine the resolve of others. As a result the team will be damaged
Fifth, the leader knows that this employee does not exhibit one critical competency of a team player: working tirelessly to make a decision or action that one does not fully agree with successful.
Sixth, managers know employees who engage in this practice will eventually leave the organization. Just like employees who accept another offer and then indicate they will stay if the offer is matched (or exceeded), this employee will eventually leave. This employee will continue to draw “red lines” in the sand until they eventually leave what they consider to be an unhealthy company or leader.
What Does This Behavior Reveal About the Person?
Persons who exhibit this behavior demonstrate that they lack several critical competencies:
1. Emotional intelligence
3. Discernment and Judgment
Should An Employee Ever Threaten To Resign?
There are times that resignation must be considered.
Situations in which core ethics or legality is challenged must be faced head-on. Situations that are unsafe or immoral cannot be condoned. Red lines in the sand are appropriate in these situations but these situations also call for follow-through on the threat if remedial action does not occur. When the employee draws the line in the sand, they must mean it because the issue is that important. This requires the employee to be able to discern between decisions or actions that are simply not liked or preferred from those that are truly illegal, immoral, unethical or unsafe, To draw a line in the sand simply because the employee wants their their way demeans that employee and tarnishes their credibility.
If threats to leave occur more than once it is a clear sign that the relationship is untenable. First, the employee should recognize that these alarming practices are continuing an unacceptable rate. As a result, the employee should no longer desire to work in that environment. Second, an employee should understand that if a line in the sand I drawn more than once, their reputation in that company will be damaged to the point that career advancement is extremely unlikely. Third, leadership should understand that an employee who continually threatens to leave if they do not get their way does not respect the organization in which they work or the leadership of it and outplacement should be considered.
What Should Employees Do If They Are Continually Passed Over For Promotions?
It is discouraging to see others move ahead in the organization especially if the employee feels he or she is as or more talented than those being selected. When that happens the employee should request a meeting with leadership to discuss their talents, competencies and accomplishments and to define gaps that the leadership believes exist. This discussion must be objective and data based around results, not threats. After this discussion occurs, if the employee sees that others employees continue to move ahead of them and if the employee feels this is unjustified they should pursue other opportunities (but without threats).
So How Does A Manager Handle Employees Who Threaten To Resign If They Do Not Get Their Way?
Accept the resignation and wish them good in their future endeavors. Make it very clear that your actions will never be driven by threats. (This can be extremely difficult, especially of the employee is more correct than wrong on what they are asking for). Therefore, acceptance of the resignation does not have to occur at the first threat. Counseling can help a younger employee. Mentoring them on how to address concerns they have over proposed actions can be a valuable learning experience. The ability to present concerns and make a case for a course of action is an important skill for any professional. An employee must learn that once a decision is made professionalism requires that they make that decision work, regardless of how they feel about the chosen course of action. (This is likely to becomer more of an issue as many millenials who have been raised to believe they can get their way if they whine enough or throw tantrums, enter the workplace).
However, if the employee is adamant with the “or else” decision or if they continue this type of behavior over time, the leader should accept the resignation and move on. No organization can be held hostage by the whim of one individual and no team is of less importance than one individual.
Recent Celebrity Threats
The same principle applies to our country. Our nation and way of life are too important to be held hostage by childish threats from people who did not get their way. Dissent and exchange of different ideas are important but threats and demands that are focused only on achieving one’s sole alternative are not the vehicle to create discussion.
Over the past few weeks we have seen many so-called celebrities attempt to blackmail America. The process of electing new leadership is not to be followed (unless it produces the choice desired). Only the will and opinions of the celebrities are to be accepted (as if they and they alone made America great and possess wisdom for the future!)
Bryan Cranston, Rosie O’Donnell, Barbra Streisand, Neve Campbell, Chelsea Handler, Amy Schumer and others of reputation so small that they are barely recognizable say they’ll pack their bags and leave the United States. Samuel L. Jackson threatens to leave if he does not get his way. Does he think no one else in the country will be able to find someone else to annoy us on a regular basis by asking, “what’s in your wallet?” As for Cher and John Stewart, merely moving out of the country isn’t sufficient; Stewart is leaving the planet and Cher promised to go to Jupiter (Cher, that’s the big one without the rings). Miley Cyrus and Lena Dunham say they will be a part of the USA-exiting crowd and the only tears for that move are from tattoo artists who worry about their livelihoods. Does Ruth Bader-Ginsburg believe that no one else can be found to fill her position as Supreme Court Justice? And Ali Wentworth threatened to drag her husband and ABC news anchor George Stephanopoulos by the nose to Australia. Does she think we cannot find someone else to read us the news from a teleprompter?
These societal threats are just as heinous and reprehensible as those who engage in threats within their companies. People who engage in this practice demonstrate that they will never be a part of making America great(er). They only exist as whiners who participate only if they get their way.
So to celebrities who believe that they and they alone are the sole arbiters of what is best for America, leave. Threats make one look small and petty. They demonstrate the lack of emotional intelligence and objectivity that this country needs in the coming years. Following through on these threats would show that you at least believed in something other than your own self-importance.
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