The resignation of Margot Käßmann as Bishop of Hannover and Chair of the Council of the EKD earlier this week has made me think about why people resign. Or - which is probably more accurate - why the rest of us put pressure to resign on people who have got something wrong. This has always mystified me and I have always assumed I was simply missing what was obvious to everybody else: that if someone got something wrong, they deserved to lose their job or role.
I know I am not alone in questioning the link between failure and resignation – the opposite, I suppose, of the link between ‘success’ and bonus. There are several bits of this that bother me and I offer them as a first word rather than a final word, a question rather than a statement:
- If someone gets something wrong, they are not likely to get it wrong again. In that sense the safest person to have on board is one who has learned from failure or error. Of course, if serious error is repeated, that’s a very different story.
- Fear of failure can inhibit creative risk-taking and lead to limited and short-term thinking.
- The fact of having got it wrong should produce a humility that is not inimical to confidence. (I don’t trust people who appear to claim that they have been spotless; I listen to those who know their fallibility.) This is not about hubris or hypocrisy, both of which demand resignation for the sake of all parties.
Margot Käßmann believed that her drink-driving offence would render her unable to speak with authority to power or challenge ethical injustice. I question this. Christian leaders are always assumed to be speaking down to the world from a moral pedestal which they themselves have established for the satisfaction of their own ego. But this is nonsense – which a conversation with any bishop would quickly displace. None of us speaks about ethics from a pedestal: the basic starting point of Christian morality is that we’ve all screwed up and none of us has a leg to stand on when it comes to throwing stones at others. (Great mixing of metaphors there…)
This is not to say that no one can make moral judgements or hold others to account. But it is to say that leaders like Käßmann would – I believe – be listened to all the more keenly because any challenge she brings cannot be stood against any imputation by others of moral superiority.
I know this sounds silly in our current climate, but surely a wise business/institution would invest in the long-term development of its leaders, taking failure as part of the development, and thus avoiding the short-termism that dogs us today? I heard yesterday that the average tenure of a Local Authority Chief Executive is around 3.5 years – it isn’t hard to unpick the implications of that.
I can’t help wondering if the immediate clamour for the resignation of ‘senior’ people has something to do with a desire for punishment or some sort of vindictive schadenfreude – even when it might not be in the best interests of the business/institution (or of the people they serve) for the resignation to be accepted.
Which, I guess, is another way of asking why we love to heap opprobrium on those to be blamed (our new national sport) and voyeuristically enjoy watching the downfall of people who were only doing their best?
Margot Käßmann must not disappear. The Church needs her – perhaps more than even she would dare to realise.