The Week In Ethics Blog

Palin’s Power Outage

Palin’s Power Outage

Posted On: Thursday, August 6, 2009

You have to wonder if it is becoming more fashionable to be a quitter.

We’ve seen CEOs hired as change agents declaring victory after several months  moving on while the company stays in intensive care.  This week  Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton resigned with three years remaining on his contract and U.S. Senator Martinez (R- Fla) announced plans to leave the Senate with more than a year left of his term.

Sarah Palin’s resignation has caused the greatest stir. A  friend and I got into a discussion of whether her resignation last month was an act of integrity or really an admission that she couldn’t lead when things got tough.  It seems like the definition of a quitter to me.
My friend, not a Palin fan, pointed out that the former Alaska governor’s passing the job to Lt. Governor Sean Parnell was an act of integrity because she resigned rather than stay in office and not be effective. To me, it is a leader’s job to figure out how to be effective in spite of opposition.

In her resignation speeches last month, she portrayed herself as a victim of hostile media attacking her children and partisan politics that she implied kept her from finishing her four-year term…that, and her job carrying the ball was done and could be passed to others.  It is also perhaps a cautionary tale to men or women candidates when they capitalize on their role as parents and pose often with their children, not to be surprised if it backfires when a pregnant, unmarried teen’s drama with her boyfriend feels like a Jerry Springer episode.

Governor Palin shaped her image at the Republican convention, honed by a reportedly $150,000 make over, proudly extolling that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick. She played both cards often. Palin merely proved by stepping down that a pit bull persona is a hard sell in developing the bipartisan relationships needed to be an effective governor or leader on any level.

Her effectiveness as a leader can be contrasted to Congressman Henry Waxman’s; while ideological opposites, they both have played the maverick.  Waxman, in his book, The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works, addresses the struggles to gain Congressional support for HIV/AIDs legislation, The Clean Air Act, nutrition labeling, and accountability in tobacco advertising, all up hill battles. Whether in the minority, especially during the Reagan years, or as a committee chair, the congressman was no stranger to polarizing issues.

He offers a primer that didn’t appear in the former governor’s play book: how to connect on principles and work with those who don’t agree with you to move through the obstacles to find common ground. That is how a leader gets things done and makes a difference.

Leadership isn’t easy. Bratton and Martinez have weathered long careers. Ms. Palin served a little more than a year as governor before running for Vice President, and had 17 months left on her four-year term when she quit. The job isn’t done for Alaska and it falls to others to do it. And that is the real legacy Ms. Palin leaves behind.


Gael O'Brien

Gael O’Brien is a catalyst for leaders leading with purpose and impact through clarity, presence and connection so that they create engagement that transforms their companies’ future. She is an executive coach, culture coach, speech coach and presenter. She publishes The Week in Ethics and is a Business Ethics Magazine columnist, a Kallman Executive Fellow, Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University and a Senior Fellow Social Innovation, the Lewis Institute at Babson College.

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Paula Ray
Paula Ray

WOW! Great contrasts! So, in your opinion, was it ethical for Sarah to resign?

J E Garrett

Are there acceptable reasons for quitting one’s commitment to fulfill a term of office? Does a politician have a moral obligation to give full value to the constituents who believed his or her promises, made in the heat of a campaign? Was Barack Obama ethical toward the voters of Illinois who elected him to a six-year term in the U.S. Senate, only to have him refocus all of his attention, after just one year in office, to running for President? Who’s a quitter?


What kind of commitment is there in the work place these days when you can be downsized at any moment even when you are doing quality work?

Mary Chiasson

Hi Gael,
Thank you very much again for speaking out on this very critical breakdown of ethical conduct.

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