What People Teach Us: Nancy Pelosi, Part I – When Is It Time For a Leader To Go?

At what point does – and should — a leader decide to step aside for the best interest of their mission and group?

As a result of a Democratic Party loss in a recent, closely-watched special election in Georgia, there is a growing call for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to step down. Calls questioning her effectiveness in that role were loud as far back as November 2016 when she was challenged by Representative Tim Ryan for her leadership role.

The current request to allow for new leadership is an echo remaining from that Ryan challenge, when most people felt Pelosi was not representative of what the Democratic leadership needs as it squares off with President Trump on every issue that faces the nation.  She refused to back down then and she refuses to make way today. But it’s important that she at least reassess how effective she can truly be in light of the losses and the fading effectiveness of the Democratic Party today.

This self-assessment is key because leadership isn’t just about refining one’s role to lead people and the mission forward but also about deciding when it’s time to step aside. Self-reflection is paramount to real and thorough leadership. Along with developing and growing, one has to be as honest with oneself as they are with those who follow them.

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Sometimes it might be an obvious and extreme example, such as with Travis Kalanick, that demonstrates a leader needs to go. Other times it’s a gradual deterioration in the effectiveness of a organization – in this case, the Democratic members of Congress – which would lead to calls for changes in leadership to take place.

No matter how close the Georgia special election race was, the end result is still a loss. Most people will not take into consideration that the margin of the loss was extraordinarily smaller than in previous races, for instance. Regardless of that improvement, there is a certain expectation many hold of their leaders. In this case, to many, Pelosi has fallen short.

So what might be some reasons leaders fight stepping down?

Is it pride? Is a leader willing and able to see that a resignation, although it may negatively impact them, is for the best of the overall mission? It’s important for a leader to weigh their own relevancy versus that of their mission. At some point, it is imperative to step aside or else the deterioration of the mission will continue until there is nothing left to lead.

Is it complete ignorance? Is it possible that it does not register to a leader that it is time to go? Sometimes a leader feels that because they were elected in the first place, that that election – that snapshot in time – is enough to indicate they are the leader and that’s that. They don’t think about how they need to maintain that trust and confidence of the voting body and members.

Is it selective hearing? Does the leader pick and choose the feedback that provides them with what they want to hear? Another side to ignorance is the isolation of listening to only a select contingent of those to whom a leader is responsible, where the leader only listens to those who give them favorable and supportive reassurances.

Is it fear of abandonment? Is a leader afraid that now that they have reached this pinnacle in their career there is nowhere else to which to ascend since they have lost the faith of those they lead? They may feel that they will never hold the same relevancy again.

Is it selfishness? Does the ego of the leader overshadow the success of the group? Some leaders, unfortunately, may be so self-centered that the power of a position is all they seek to hold, no matter what. It is the position and not the mission that drives their work in their duty. This selfishness is not only a leader being silently misguided but also being proactive in holding onto power.

Is it competitiveness? Pelosi has admitted that she welcomes competition, even from her own party. This is a bit different from pride, where being proud can be passive while inviting competitiveness in this particular situation is more proactive by essentially welcoming confrontation. Is the need to win against anyone more important than your side standing together?


No matter the situation at-hand or where you stand in an organization or environment, always consider that there’s a need to constantly improve on your part. We need to be cognizant of what our actions are doing (and not doing) for our constituents, partners, shareholder, stakeholders, etc.

Do you have someone who can tell you the truth, whether it’s an accountability partner you always work with or someone who works with you closely who can be honest with you?

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We need to be realistic about what we are achieving and that which we’re not.

We owe it to others to deliver what is needed, even if that means our resignation

An exit is always an option, no matter how much we fight it.

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