How a person resigns from an important job says a lot about their personality. While personality is stable over time, some key moments put a bright spotlight on it. We witnessed moments like this earlier this month when the German Federal Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht resigned, followed by the resignation of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern just hours later. The two departures, however, hold distinct lessons about how to resign.
In nearly any job, your personality and its alignment to the role determine whether you will be successful. Politics is no different. When requirements for a job change or you no longer can live up to the requirements of the work you’re charged to do, do step away. Continuing a job based on ego alone can be damaging to your professional reputation, regardless of your gender or industry.
Let’s have a closer look at the lessons in personality that can be gleaned from the resignations of Lambrecht and Ardern.
Ways of Resigning: Christine Lambrecht
Christine Lambrecht was appointed federal minister of defense by Olaf Scholz’s cabinet in December 2021. As Scholz officially stated on Twitter, “A cabinet led by me as Chancellor is at least half made up of women.”1,2 A lawyer by education, Lambrecht took office without a military or security background.
Until February 24, 2022, when the Ukraine war started, the office for defense hadn’t been in the limelight much. But after the war began, that changed—a lot. The expected focus of Lambrecht’s role was modernizing Germany’s armed forces, but she was slow to deliver. Her lack of experience and knowledge, as well as her insufficient curiosity and empathy, made her a mismatch for the position.
Instead of taking the challenge head on to prove her leadership, Lambrecht isolated herself and wouldn’t listen to advice given by capable experts. Instead, she chose to ignore valuable information and put her focus on defending her erratic behavior to cover up her steady stream of mistakes in office, which the media had to report on. She even turned her private life into a political issue by taking her son for a ride in a government helicopter and photographing him for Instagram.
Her last act was a video that she posted on Instagram in December 2022,3 which showed her in front of exploding fireworks in the city of Berlin. Not only were the fireworks a reminder of the constant explosions in the horrific war in Ukraine, but her message was inappropriate and inaudible because of the background noise.
She took a little over a year before she finally put in her resignation. But instead of going public to explain herself, she published a short, written statement, blaming the media for her downfall. Translated from German, the statement4 reads:
“Today I asked the Chancellor to dismiss me from the office of Federal Minister of Defense. The media focus on my person for months hardly allows for objective reporting and discussion about the servicemen and women, the Bundeswehr, and security policy decisions in the interest of the citizens of Germany. The focus must be on the valuable work of the soldiers and the many motivated people in the division. I have therefore decided to make my office available. I would like to thank all those who are committed to our security every day and sincerely wish them all the very best for the future.”
The statement reflects the shortcomings in her personality that made her unqualified for this important position, especially during wartime. She took no responsibility for her disastrous performance. The statement showed no self-criticism, no awareness of the problem, and no signs of insight.
Lastly, it must be said that it does not help women step up into leadership when they are appointed not for qualifications, but only for gender.
Ways of Resigning: Jacinda Ardern
Only one day later, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, showed how to resign in a different and decent way.
During her time as prime minister, Ardern proved herself to be a sensitive crisis manager. This quality earned her much international recognition. However, Ardern fell short of expectations when it came to economic issues, such as combating the housing shortage, inflation, and child poverty. Criticism of her therefore increased.
Her amazing resignation speech about what the job required of her came as a complete surprise for everyone. Here’s an excerpt from the speech5:
“This has been the most fulfilling five and a half years of my life but has also had its challenges. Amongst an agenda focused on housing, child poverty, and climate change, we encountered a major biosecurity incursion, a domestic terror event, a major natural disaster, a global pandemic, and an economic crisis. The decisions that have had to be made have been continual, and they have been weighty.
“But I’m not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case, I probably would’ve departed two months into the job. I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility—the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple. But I absolutely believe and know there are others around me who do.”
Unlike Lambrecht’s resignation, Ardern’s was communicated openly with a personal message that revealed her selfless attitude and the sovereignty of her decision.
The Role of Strategic Self-Awareness
Both ways of resigning are a perfect reflection of the different personalities of two people who stood in the media spotlight for a long time. One blamed others for her decision to leave office, whereas the other resigned with vulnerability and transparency. While Christine Lambrecht’s resignation was long overdue, Jacinda Ardern’s was unexpected.
Ardern used strategic self-awareness in tendering her resignation, knowing that she would no longer be matched for the challenges ahead of New Zealand. She acknowledged her failures and shortcomings after six years of crisis management and ongoing challenges. What may seem weak to some was actually the expression of her strong personality and an honest assessment of her own capabilities. Her statement will stay as a rare example of how to resign.
Lambrecht, on the contrary, tried to hide her obvious failure by blaming others. Neither her reign as Federal Minister of Defense nor her awkward way of resigning will be remembered.
This blog post was authored by Nicole Neubauer, CEO of metaBeratung.
metaBeratung is a boutique management consultancy headquartered in Germany. The team of 17 consists of psychologists, consultants, and coaches who help clients make better hiring and development decisions. The offerings include Hogan certification training, Hogan reports, HR consulting, coaching, Hogan feedback conversations, and selection consulting. metaBeratung has been an authorized distributor for Hogan Assessments since 2005.
- Paul, J. P. (2022, March 28). The Spectacular Failure of a Quota for Women. Cicero. https://www.cicero.de/innenpolitik/kabinett-olaf-scholz-frauenquote-personalpolitik-ampel-regierung
- Scholz, O. [@OlafScholz]. (2020, November 27). Ich gebe hier heute das Versprechen ab: Ein von mir als Bundeskanzler geführtes Kabinett ist mindestens zur Hälfte mit Frauen besetzt! [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/olafscholz/status/1332272206169124865?lang=de
- Lambrecht, C. [@christine.lambrecht]. (2022, December 31). Ich wünsche uns allen einen guten Rutsch in ein gesundes, glückliches und hoffentlich friedvolleres Jahr 2023 🍀 [Video]. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cm2Mks1BDj8/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
- Verteidigungsministerium [@BMVg_Bundeswehr]. (2023, January 16). Meldung – Bundesministerin der Verteidigung Christine Lambrecht erklärt: [Image attached] [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/BMVg_Bundeswehr/status/1614918232665915392
- NZ Herald. (2023, January 18). Watch the moment tearful Jacinda Ardern announces her resignation as Prime Minister [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSUgBuSwFK8