At what point in a crisis does a leader have to make the decision to resign?

I can still remember with some vividly the Falklands War of 1982. I was in my very early twenties when it happened. I recall the shock, the chaos, the emerging pride in the armed forces as a task force was assembled with incredible speed, and then the tension of the next few months until the war was over and then a feeling that the United Kingdom had become great again. What I also remember very clearly is the resignation of the Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, which happened within days of the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. I have been reflecting on this swift, very high profile, resignation over the past few days, particularly in light of recent, best described as, chaotic issues in the inability of large sections of the country to deliver basic services.

Whether it be the airports, the Passport Office, DVLC, the airlines, the NHS, this has highlighted an interesting leadership situation. In a way this has led to the growing sense of public frustration and is ammunition for the mainstream media and social media commentators to create and maintain a feverish state of angst (the over use today of the word ‘crisis’) and calling for those responsible to be held to account. When is it therefore appropriate for a leader to resign in a ‘crisis’?

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The Principle of Collective Responsibility

I recently heard of an interesting situation with a Chair of a Board of Trustees not understanding the concept of collective responsibility. Surely, I asked myself, everyone who serves as a Trustee knows this basic principle – I therefore set out to conduct some simple research by asking colleagues and was surprised to find how many thought collective responsibility was an optional element of decision making!

The situation I encountered is an interesting example of this. It arose when the Chair apparently wished to take a certain course of action but the Board executive committee wished a different course. Having failed to reach consensus it was agreed the two opposing views would be presented to the full board for a decision. The Chair believed if his course was not followed there would be many serious repercussions – a form of ‘project fear’ began! Shortly before the board meeting the Chair, when circulating the agenda and the two opposing papers, declared that the minutes of the meeting would list all the Trustees and how they voted on the issue. Some Trustees viewed this as intimidation. When challenged during the meeting to justify the decision to record names the Chair stated it was an opportunity for at a later stage (assuming he lost the vote and all his fears came true of his perceived problems) those who lost the vote (himself included) to respond to external criticism by saying it was not their fault because they voted against it.

The Chair was challenged by some Trustees over collective responsibility – he indicated he understood the principle, but claimed it did not apply if one states in the minutes you did not support the relevant decision. Extraordinary.

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Top Tips for Leaders – Take a ‘time out’

This week’s 2 minute video asks: How do leaders cope in a crisis? How do leaders cope when deadlines are looming and passing, when there is crisis all around them? There is chaos, poor communication, advisors coming at the leader with differing opinions which the leader has to make very difficult judgments upon. The answer may sound illogical, but leaders need to walk away, to take a ‘time out’. It could just be a couple of minutes. It could be hours. It could be half a day or even a full day, but leaders need to walk away. It will be a time to reflect, think, get the bigger, greater perspective and, only then, come back. Great leaders don’t work harder, they work smarter. Watch the video here

Book Review – ‘Staring at God – Britain in the Great War’

A few years ago I was very fortunate to undertake an unplanned tour of the Ypres battlefields from the 1914-1918 Great War. My wife and I were enjoying a short holiday in Brugge and decided to spend a day on a guided tour (because the weather was so brutally cold – it was mid-December – we had exhausted all the indoor museums and the only option left was outdoors. At least on a tour we could be inside a warm vehicle!).

Two memories remain from that tour. The first was finding without planning, thanks to our luck of having a first class military historian as our guide, the area where my Grandfather was taken prisoner in 1940 during the retreat to Dunkirk (he then spent the period 1940 to 1945 in various German Prisoner of War camps). The second was, despite my own natural curiosity in the war from my background as a military officer, a new fascination with the Great War of 1914-1918.


I have read many books since on the military aspects of the war, so to find a book which focuses on what could be described the ‘home front’ has been a thoroughly unexpected education. ‘Staring at God – Britain in the Great War’, by Simon Heffer, is his third volume of the period 1838-1939, and covers 1914-1919. There are 12 sections in the book, logically following the sequence of the period, overlapping chronologically where necessary to maintain the dialogue. We travel from Build-Up, War, through to a Coalition, then consider Conscription, the Political Coup of 1916, Attrition (Somme and Passchendaele), and end with the Armistice and then the Aftermath.

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