Tenet Lessons, Less Pay, More Frustration: Why It's the Choice for Some

When former CIA director George Tenet resigned almost three years ago, he cited personal reasons. President Bush denied he was forced out and said he "would miss him."

Now in Tenet's newly released tell-all book, "At the Center of the Storm," and in interviews to promote the book, he describes a less than ideal working situation and refers to some of the actions taken by his former bosses as "disingenuous."

So what causes someone who dedicates his life to public service to sever those ties, and as in Tenet's case, become an outspoken critic of the government he once served? Tenet is certainly not the first public servant to become disillusioned with his job.

Jeffrey Seglin, who writes an ethics column called "The Right Thing" for The New York Times, and authored a book by the same name, says there can come a time in people's lives when "their personal values clash with the values of the organization" they serve. He points to former U.S. Ambassador John Brady Kiesling as an excellent example.

After serving 20 years with the State Department under the leadership of both political parties, Kiesling resigned in 2003 with "a heavy heart" in protest of "America's fervent pursuit of war with Iraq" as he outlined in his resignation letter, which made the rounds on the Internet.

Kiesling said, "Until this Administration, it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my President I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer."

Seglin says people often stay in public service even if they don't agree with every policy because they think they can be "an agency of change." Seglin says in Keisling's case, once he "felt his voice wasn't being heard," he had to quit.

Seglin says public servants believe "they're serving the public good." That sense of call may cause some to stay on the job longer.

"Anyone who serves in the public sector knows they will not always be agreed with," Seglin said, "and understands that in the public, there is a mix of a lot of people with varying views that may not necessarily reflect their own values." He added, "Anyone in public service who thinks their way is the only way is in the wrong line of work."

Executive career coach and consultant Kevin Nourse based in Washington, D.C., says some people enter the public sector because they want to "leave a lasting legacy." They choose to forget the bigger salaries of private corporations.

"It's more than just earning money," Nourse said. "They want to be a part of something far bigger than themselves."

Nourse says that sense of mission is what "balances the scales with all the demands on them. You have to buy into the mission. But when [that person] no longer agrees with the mission and believes staying would be a breach of integrity, they quit."

When former Secretary of State Colin Powell left the Bush administration in January 2005, he made no secret of his discord with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over U.S. foreign policy in Iraq. Powell told ABC's Barbara Walters he felt "terrible" about claims he made in his now infamous speech to the United Nations, where he made a case for the danger Iraq posed with its possession of weapons of mass destruction. He referred to the address as "a blot" on his reputation.

That initial belief that a person can help the greater good is a strong pull into the public sector. Career and executive coach Marshall Brown says he noticed an increased interest in public service directly after the Sept. 11 attacks. Brown said he heard from a lot of people who told him "life can be so short and I want to do something where I can make a difference."

But Brown says a job working for the greater good does not mean a stress-free workplace or even ideal conditions. "One must investigate the culture or organization," Brown said. "X organization or government agency may look like a great place to work from the outside, but it might not be the right place for you."

Brown echoed what Seglin and Nourse had said, "It comes down to values." While no workplace, whether in the public or private sector will be a perfect match with an employee's own set of values, Brown says it's important to prioritize so your values are in alignment with your job.

When they no longer line up, that's when job dissatisfaction happens and Brown says that's when you typically seek out change.

In his former job as a human resources manager, Nourse conducted exit interviews. And in rooting out the real reason someone was quitting, he found it inevitably ended up being the employee's relationship with his or her boss.

Nourse compared a boss to "the umbilical cord, which tethers someone to his or her job." Nourse said, "Without the nutrients flowing through the connection with the boss, it's a critical part of how people thrive. You know someone's got your back. Once that social support is lost, that's when the balance of the scales tip."

And all of the career coaches and ethicists agreed at the point when the employee feels that balance is no longer in his or her favor not even a job serving the public good may seem worth keeping.