Sadly, principle and politics are two words that are rarely associated together, so the news of David Davis' resignation on 12 June over the 42 day detention rule is all the more surprising. It also begs the question - did the Shadow Home Secretary resign on a deeply held principle - or is a publicity stunt which could in the long term prove to be a career master stroke?
Whatever the motives, resigning in such a way will always divide opinion. When applied to the world of business and IT, this kind of principled resignation raises several interesting issues i.e. as an IT professional, should we simply accept what our employers, customers and colleagues do, whether we agree with it or not? When is it time to take drastic action and say 'if you want it like this, you can do it without me'?
Voting with one's feet certainly makes a statement, and demonstrates strong principles, but can also be seen as simply giving up. So, when is an issue significant enough to warrant this kind of action without creating the impression of taking the easy way out?
A professional dilemma
In the world of IT and business change, things move so quickly and this speed can sometimes be achieved at the expense of quality. Timescales are set that can never be achieved, changes are planned that are clearly never going to work, and the approach taken to projects is sometimes quite obviously inappropriate or unethical.
This presents a dilemma: as a professional do you go along with things as they are or make a stand? Taking the David Davis route could be a proactive move and a catalyst for change (forcing a change of direction from management - or conversely could simply be opting out rather than making the effort to effect change from within.
These are complicated questions to answer with a number of factors at play, so start by considering these five main questions:
- Is something about this situation going against either your core values or your belief system?
- How bad is it really going to be if you just put up with what's going on?
- What are the ramifications for everyone else and the project in hand if you go?
- Does being involved in the project cause you more grief than walking away from it could potentially cause?
- Is leaving defensible - and could you explain it to future customers or employers as doing the right thing?
Peer pressure is another major factor that comes into play. You may not be alone in disagreeing with the way things are done but if colleagues are prepared to stay put and see things through, this increases the pressure to maintain the status quo.
Ultimately, the action you take is largely determined by how comfortable you are with yourself and where your self-esteem comes from. If your self-esteem is mainly based on how others perceive you, walking out of any situation won't appeal - what will people say when you've gone? However, if other people's opinions matter less than knowing you've done the right thing, and then you're free to make the decision that suits you best.
Making a commitment to quality
The nature of the engagement is also significant. As a freelance IT consultant, I was less inclined to walk away from a project just because I didn't like it. I always felt that reputation was everything, and didn't want to burn any bridges, upset my customer or create the wrong impression amongst colleagues. However, if you don't truly believe in what you're doing, you may be sacrificing quality of service and creating a poor impression.
With a permanent position, things are a little different. You're not normally thinking of going back there, and it doesn't matter so much what people around you are thinking, so you're at liberty to do what you feel is right.
Another factor is how high profile the role or project is: as Shadow Home Secretary, Davis' departure is headline grabbing stuff. Similarly, a prominent resignation can work to your advantage. The PR it generates may be invaluable if you're in a situation that goes against popular opinion.
Of course, it's good to be challenged. It keeps us on our toes, ensures we continue to learn and makes success more fulfilling. However, too much stress is a bad thing: it can reduce your effectiveness, affect your health and leave you feeling drained and exhausted during the precious time you spend with family and friends. If a situation is too stressful, you simply have to know when to draw the line.
Getting a sense of perspective
If you are in a difficult position, start by gaining a sense of perspective to help you deal with today's pressing issues. Take a step away and look at the journey you've made to date. Consider all the things that have gone before in your life to get you to this point. Think of the obstacles you've overcome, including the low points and how they've often led to great transformations.
Only then consider where you are now and the issues you are currently dealing with so you can gain perspective on your present problems - this process usually makes them seem insignificant. It also helps enormously when considering whether backing away from a customer, resigning from a permanent job or terminating a great contract is the right thing to do.
Ultimately, Davis and others like him are to be commended for taking a stand - whether you agree with their views or not. We should all learn from their example and strive to lead work lives on our terms that are a better reflection of who we are and where we really want to be. Only then are we able to stay true to our professional and personal principles.
Derrick Cameron is managing director of Eximium Ltd, a business IT solutions provider that specialises in helping businesses maximise the benefit of their IT systems by using them to solve their business headaches.