Allowing our failures to walk among us.
Is it reasonable to ask leaders to resign?
I’ve been mulling this over since I was invited to sign an open letter to the Pillar Nonprofit Network’s Board of Directors, asking for its members to resign and support a transition to new leadership.
Upon first reading, I was hesitant to sign. The letter’s call to action — for the current Board to resign — seemed a little bit, for lack of a better word, harsh.
The word harsh was a yellow flag.
In my experience, it is most often employed by the powerful as a means of accentuating their reasonableness in the face of unreasonable calls for accountability from those with lesser formal power or stature. It’s used to transform not only ideas, but the individuals who hold them into something unreasonable.
The strategy is insidious and effective because it shifts the narrative away from the expression of accountability to one of decorum or politeness. In other words, the powerful say, “you can call for accountability, but do it nicely, and make sure that when you do, you ask for something that is acceptable to us.”
This isn’t real accountability, it’s an unreasonableness trap.
I didn’t want to trap the people who had written the open letter to the Pillar Board, so I asked why the act of resigning might seem harsh or unreasonable to me.
The answer, at least in part, is that I am surrounded by a culture that interprets resignations, after mistakes or failures, as shameful.
Most of us do.
The author and shame researcher Dr. Brené Brown teaches us that the difference between shame and guilt is the difference between “I am bad” and “I did something bad.”
Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.
When we frame resignations in shame, rather than in guilt, we send the message that people who resign “are bad” rather than whole-hearted people who have made mistakes, failed, or “done something bad.”
No one wants to be told that they “are bad” and I believe that most of us are motivated to do better when we realize that we have “done something bad “or contributed to a situation that has caused hurt. As a long, Christian-inspired poem taught me once, we are never doomed to eternal damnation, no matter our sins, because, by the grace of God we can choose to repent, acknowledge, and accept.
Now, no one gets a free pass or forever forgiveness just for acknowledging that we’ve caused hurt. We must recognize that accountability is a process, not a destination, and that there are consequences for our actions, inadvertent as they may be.
Accepting consequences with our heads held high and our hearts open allows us to receive the infinite wisdom of our communities, rather than close ourselves off from the pain that may accompany the realizations it offers.
In other words, resigning can be okay. We all fail sometimes, but that doesn’t make us failures. There are consequences, but resigning can be honourable.
Years ago, when I was working at Pillar, our team participated in a workshop on failure facilitated by social artist Melanie Schambach. The evidence of our work hangs in the stairwell at Innovation Works, as a reminder that failure can be a beautiful, restorative teacher when we give it the chance to live among us.
In this spirit I believe it to be compassionate rather than harsh, and reasonable rather than unreasonable to request that the Pillar Nonprofit Board resign. This board has accompanied the organization to a moment in which it is capable of sharing space with its failures. The board’s resignation can be its next contribution to the kind of culture that we hope to build in the Pillar Nonprofit Network.
Even amidst the hurt, this could be celebrated. This kind of failure could walk among us and grant its wisdom so that we may find deeper relationship, accountability, and healing — especially for those who are hurting.
Oh, and as you may have guessed, I signed the letter.