Having to leave a position on others’ terms is difficult. Retiring or resigning when you feel it is time to go is one thing. You leave on your own conditions. There is closure. High-flying leaders, those who hit the glass and break their wings, do not get that sense. They leave with unfinished business. It is a difficult situation, emotionally and professionally.

In this situation there are two ways to approach the situation. Some leaders assume the posture and mentality of victims. They act as if they were awash on the waves of circumstance, victims of forces beyond their control. They flail and curse at the state of affairs and toss up their hands in frustration. They go through a period of rejecting the conditions and hoping things will or could change.

Victims believe that the only recourse in life is to react; that they are not “response-able”. Self-pity, a “woe is me” attitude, and a lack of responsibility characterize victim mentalities. Hoping things were different is not going to change things, and cursing the darkness does not bring light. Being a bug in search of a windshield will not change the conditions broken-wing leaders face.

Certainly, these leaders are facing difficult situations. Their competence, reputations and status are threatened. They can fall into a situation of trying to explain to their colleagues and others that ‘it’ was not their fault, deflecting any responsibility, as if they were oblivious to what was happening. Maybe the leader was not professionally culpable. Maybe there were better ways to address or manage the situation. Taking the position of no responsibility for what is transpiring puts them into the class of victim.

There are two levels of responsibility here. First, was the leader responsible through actions or benign neglect for the events that led to the situation erupting? It does not mean the leader did anything ethically wrong or was incompetent. It may have meant the problem was not recognized, the wrong approaches or strategies were applied or the desired results were not achieved. By not examining the leader’s responsibility in the situation, leaves only the position of victim. Leaders are seldom benign or irrelevant.

The second responsibility concerns what actions the leader took once the situation was out in the open. Was there a way to address this situation beyond having to leave the position? If not, what approach could be taken [besides blaming the board or local politicians] to become a player and not a victim?

Players take responsibility and accept circumstances. They are not victims who naively react to others’ actions and what life brings them. They accept conditions as they are and do not engage in fantasies of the cavalry bugling their way over the hill to save the day. Instead, they see reality for what it is and take action.

Players are not looking through the rearview mirror and living in the past. They move ahead, looking out the front windshield to address the situation for the best possible outcome, acknowledging that this may mean leaving their job in the most positive way possible.

Taking responsibility means addressing the situation and using your talents to meet your needs and the requirements of the job to the greatest extent possible. Players contribute and have a role in determining outcomes and events. While the leader may still have to leave the job, a player will at least be a factor in the conditions and circumstance surrounding the resignation. While it does not provide total closure, the leader who is a player takes responsibility for working to a conclusion.

Player or victim? This distinction is not intended to diminish the hurt and turmoil. It does not ignore the fact that injustices occur. Or that fairness gets trampled in political pastures. These things occur. The issue is how leaders in these situations address them, and how they respond. Being a player provides a sense of efficacy, the ability to respond, which is a powerful position.