Monday, February 23, 2009

Exit with Grace - How should a leader exit?


Is there a right way to leave a position? Do you owe remaining people anything?

If you subscribe to the basic premise of Beverly Kaye & Sharon Jordon-Evans’ book “Love ‘em or Lose ‘em,” then you could presume there was some reason for the exit. A person is typically progressing to something better or exiting something less than desirable. Whether you are moving internally from position to position or to a new company, is it your responsibility as a leader to make sure past management knows what really caused the exit or is protecting bridges the top priority?

What about the people who remain? Should you be the martyr for the sake of helping improve their work lives? Would it work if you tied?

I’ve been coached to always exit with grace.

What do you believe is the general rule of advice for an exit?

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

John,

As I mentioned in my response on LinkedIn, I think a leader should think first about what he/she believes in and then about the people with whom she/he worked. If the vision or the ability to inspire is gone, the leader is no longer effective. I agree with your concept of exiting gracefully, but, I think we all may have a different view of what we mean by "gracefully." I think a good leader can look at the bridges past and recognize those that can (or should) be burned, those that should be preserved, and, then, go forward and create new bridges, whether within the company or at another company (or, perhaps, by founding his/her own company that effectively realizes the vision). The people who remain will have their own reasons for believing what they will and I don't think a leader needs to be concerned with what those reasons are. However, I believe a graceful exit should include communications with the leader's entire team to let them know about the exit in some manner. I think a true leader owes the team at least that much.

Thanks,

George Osorio

Sameer Vyas from Linkedin said...

Hi John, In my opinion, a leader should exit in the same manner in which they entered. The management style that had been in play while the leader had been with the company and interacted with management should be played out till the end. I feel it is extremely important for past management to know about the major catalytic influences that caused the exit. It is noteworthy of how many firms recall top performers to join them, imagine what it would be like if you had to hit the same road blocks again. And never 'ever' burn bridges, shake 'em but don't break 'em. Be well. Sameer Vyas

Dr. Paul Hoffman, DSL from Linkedin said...

calpHave you prepared the organization for your departure? After you are gone, are you leaving a legacy of success? Have you developed leaders or leaders and have you handed off to leaders of leaders? Your reference to "love 'em or lose 'em" enters into the realm of self-sacrificing love of followers and the organization. If you lead the organization to this level of esprit, this level of spiritual awareness, then you are leaving with grace."

Frank Saladis from Linkedin said...

How a leader exits depends quite a bit on what the leader accomplished while in the leadership position. Leaders who have been effective, well respected, accomplished goals and created an environment of unity and team work will exit with grace and appreciation. These leaders usually move on to new and more exciting opportunities with the well wishing of the people they are leaving. Those "leaders" who exit due to less than stellar performance, who have created a negative environment and have not contributed to their organizations or assisted in their team member's growth usually exit in a stealth fashion with very little attention and probably a sigh of relief from many

Tim Lux from Linkedin said...

kicking their heels in the air and laughing with glee as they run to the nearest bank with a suitcase full of money. alternatively, its a small world, so on the basis that burning bridges is not a good idea, being helpful, attentive, professional and courteous.

Bob Wagner from Linkedin said...

People are told to exit with grace so that they will always have an open door and good referral if they ever need it. When an employee leaves for a better opportunity or if they leave because of unfavorable conditions they should always leave in a professional manner. If they handled it professionally there would be no surprise to their superiors; they would have voiced their concern and desires and made every effort to create a win win situation. If both parties agree that they have done everything within their power and no favorable agreement is reached, then the employee can give notice if they so desire. If you lie ( its all me boss, not you) or withhold information that may help bring improvement in the future just for your own benefit, I wouldn't call it grace, nor would I call it successful leadership skills. Be honest, be open and be professional.

Dave Perfetti from Linkedin said...

I agree you should always exit with grace. I would also say you should enter your new role with grace as well. I believe it is very important to honour the past... as you enter a new role, honouring (he who was before you) and the work that he and his team (now your team) has been accomplished is very important as you establish a foundation to build yours and your teams contribution, even if it is a bit different than what was done in the past.

Sharon Eden from Linkedin said...

Is not grace a quality of leadership whether you're coming, going or remaining in situ? Warmly... Sharon

Joseph Muscarello from Linkedin said...

I believe that you should exit just as you came in, quietly. Why make a production of it, to fulfill a sense of worth? If you did all you could or are leaving for preservation, then just leave. Standing and fighting when being pushed out sometimes only helps solidify that there was just cause for them (company or managers) to do so. I believe if you have to fight, then you are less than effective in that role and should just pack up and leave.

Douglas J Dupper from Linkedin said...

A smile, a handshake and move on. They know what the issues are most time If you have been honest with your staff. Life goes on and going out with your head up is the only way to go.

Randy Miller from Linkedin said...

Always treat everyone you are leaving behind with respect and courtesy. Do everything you can to make a smooth transition, and make sure those you worked with understand that they can get in touch with you if they have questions about open issues.

Jak A.Plihal from Linkedin said...

John, As you know there is one bottom line resource in business, our relationships. Does "leaving gracefully" actually mean holding your tongue? Do you value business relationships where people don't say what needs to be said? Me either. I'd say don't force people to benefit from your knowledge when they'd rather stay in the dark, and offer it where you think it will be well received. Ask permission as a rule, as it will have the conversation flow. In this you are honoring yourself as a leader -- and setting people up to know what to expect from you -- which will have you working with people that want to talk straight... eh?!

Seema Ahluwalia from Linkedin said...

Always exit with grace. Indeed. Better leave and let the masses wonder why now rather than when masses are wondering why not now.

Alex Kersha from Linkedin said...

John, Great discussion topic, thank you for the post. I agree with Douglas, a quick uneventful exit is the only way to go. It's up to management to take care of the people factor. At the same time, a true leader doesn't leave loose ends all over the place and strives to bring closure to any engagement. Doing so professionally and efficiently will ensure you are remembered favorably by those who remain. Cheers, Alex Kersha

Nancy Reece from Linkedin said...

I'm reading between the lines of your comment, but I find being a martyr rarely works - because if things are going on at certain layers of a company, top management either already knows or "doesn't want to know". While trying to play martyr may make us feel better, I always advocate for exiting with a level of integrity that surpasses (if possible) the level of integrity they used in dealing with you. An exit with integrity and quiet dignity speaks volumes to all.

Joe Manuel from Linkedin said...

I belive it is important to balance grace with information that would be helpful to the organization that one is leaving. The best way to accomplish this is to develop a transition plan with the board or other leadership body. Hopefully the plan will be embraced by leadership and can both address areas that were of concern (partly the reason you were leaving) and that you see as esential to the future growth/stability of the organization.

John Erickson from Linkedin said...

John - The exiting executive should always leave with his reputation as positive as possible. The ability to provide a good legacy with those who have worked for you is important to any new company or association. The one potential negative is if the executive was not respected in the first place.

Paul Bridle from Linkedin said...

Since one of my definitions of a Leader is "Leaders work their way out of their job", I believe that exit with grace is the most important. I believe that a leader can have an expiry date for a particular position and so should be at the stage when they know they have done what they can do and now need to pass on the role to others. Paul

Tom Hawes from Linkedin said...

John, I think that you already know the answer to the question. But, for fun, let's assume the worse. That is, suppose that one was treated very badly at an organization but is being to asked to leave. Further, let's say that you are being unfairly blamed for bad results and that your good name is being dragged through the mud by people that forced your departure. Your next job is not assured and people that you thought would be helpful or empathetic are not. The answer is still the same, isn't it? We only control ourselves and at times of personal crises or trials our responses are especially tested. Although I have sometimes dreamed of a dramatic departure after I have given an unforgettable speech to the scoundrels that injured me, I find that life doesn't work that way. Instead, trials have reminded me that all situations (good and bad) are temporary. We are up sometimes and we are down at other times. We do carry with us our integrity and decency. The people that matter most will know about that side to us. As you say, exit with grace. Keep your links to the people that care about you. Consider how and when to forgive those that caused you pain. Help someone else that is going through what you experienced. -- Tom

Billie Jo Cuthbert from Linkedin said...

I would recommend exiting with grace and integrity. It is best to focus on the upcoming opportunity and it's appeal as the driver for the change; however, honest and constructive feedback on the current environment will benefit those that are left in that organization.

Stan Kirkwood from Linkedin said...

Not departing with grace means leaving with a negative residue and that only lowers the opinion of those remaining of the person who left.

Ian Finlay from Linkedin said...

I think there are a number of approaches that may be appropriate. When leaving for a "positive" reason such as an internal or external proactive career move or retirement, leave a positive legacy. Offer a well managed handover, complete staff appraisals, meet one-to-one with direct reports and offer constructive feedback, ask for that feedback for yourself. Thank all your team personally if possible and by email if not for their support and dedication.

When "slight negative" reasons are in play such as redundancy or restructuring, the company makes it clear that the skills of the exiting executive are no longer required. In that case the exec may choose to decline a handover or restrict it to practical admin matters, since the skills and knowledge of that exec represent his/her intellectual value and the company no longer wishes to retain that for fair compensation. Nonetheless, maintain the personal relationships with reports and managers in the same way as above.

When "strongly negative" reasons are the cause of the exit, such as abnormal contract termination, disciplinary proceedings (let's assume these are unjustified...), serious and irreconcilable personality clashes and so on, the exec may not have a choice but to pack up their desk and get out. After the dust has settled a very carefully crafted email to the team may be appropriate, but I would take advice first.

Barry Zweibel from Linkedin said...

The people who truly care will likely catch up with you afterwards, would they not? They'll then also likely tell others who are curious enough to ask them.

Ashish Sehgal from Linkedin said...

One can simply walk ... and there is actually no exit point. If you are a true leader, followers will follow you where ever you go. Its important to be graceful, if you are feeling graceful inside while movign out. If it is an escape, then grace would not matter.

Penelope Cooper from Linkedin said...

Definitely exit with grace, and if it is an internal transfer, regard what your successor does when you have left with grace also. As Sharon says, grace all round!

Tim Wilks from Linkedin said...

John, Good discussion topic...I agree with the posts from Douglas, Alex, Nancy and Tom...The one thing I focus on (whether departing, changing or staying in the current role) is we should learn from all our experiences and apply them to all roles within our roles. Being an example of integrity to those around you regardless of your situation is key...Like the quote on my office wall..."There is never a right time to do the wrong thing"... Tim

Ken Camarco from Linkedin said...

Agree that you should always strive toward a graceful departure / exit from any professional engagement. I liked Phillip Fulmer's quote when departing Univ Tenn Football program (where he was arguably successful but had a bad year and didn't meet expectations... and was fired)..."Our Tennessee family is united in its goals, but divided in the right path to get there." Professional differences are OK, and often even healthy, agree to disagree but move on with integrity intact. Likely you will preserve a relationship that can benefit both parties down the road.

Cynthia Kasabian from Linkedin said...

Like anything else, developing a plan -- in this case -- an exit plan that reflects your move toward something positive, not away from something negative is key. Identify the people you need to contact internally and externally; identify your communication channels -- who should you call, who should you make time to meet, who should you send emails to; make the transition for your sucessor seamless. There are huge, long-term benefits from making the extra effort on the way out.

Anil Santhapuri from Linkedin said...

Currently we have personally experienced how a raw exit of a leader made it detrimental to the entire organization.

Ryan Gorski from Linkedin said...

It is my personal belief that when leaving, leave the place better than you found it. That might mean spraying some bleach on the mess before you walk out the door. Recently I started a new job, and I set an appointment with the manager whom I was leaving. I turned that meeting into a real exit interview. The type of exit interview I had in mind had never been considered in that group (a group of high turnover). Prior exit interviews were simple exercises; fill in the blanks. I was honest about my experiences on the team, what I liked, what I didn't like. Of course it was full of constructive criticism; I made several recommendations. I addressed every negative issue I had with advice on how to correct. I was humble about it, those issues may have only been mine, but if the manager saw truth in it, they now had resources to work with. When deciding to leave a job, you have alot of things to think about.. it is those things relating to the job that you should share with superiors. As an employee of that manager, it was not my position to tell my manager what I thought was going wrong, I didn't want to be seen as a negative individual, as somebody who intentionally rocked the boat. However, upon leaving I felt free to share my opinions, especially on the subject of young engineer retention (I am only 3.5 years out of undergrad). I stayed with the company, but I had several friends/colleagues leave to commercial enterprises (Amazon and Hulu). I knew why they left, but management thought it was purely money; only one of them left for money. When leaving under good or bad reasons, you should share your constructive opinions. If your senior leaders don't want to hear it, then that bridge was burned without you adding fuel to the fire. As far as those who will be left behind: If you are a true leader, somebody they will miss, be sure to spend time walking around and speaking with them one-on-one (or one-on-many). If you were just another manager, a simple polite email will suffice, but make sure you speak to anybody you considered a friend. When leaving others behind, it's a good time to hold private meetings with those you feel don't live up to their potential. It's a great time to finally be honest with the person, to remove the managerial boundary. Again, make it constructive, but make it obvious. Good people are sometimes not good employees, and some managers have a hard time holding people accountable (read Patrick Lencioni - The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive). By sharing with them your real feelings of their attitudes/performance etc, you let them know their flaws are obvious (trust me, they know they have flaws, but if nobody points them out, they won't address them). You should never pull punches with anybody, just be sure to keep them above the belt.

Paul Kelley from Linkedin said...

Prior to the exit, one has a professional responsibility to improve the organization that he or she is in by acting with sufficient candor throughout their tenure. Waiting until you depart to provide such feedback demonstrates a lack of moral courage and represents a self-indictment. Better to leave quietly. Lastly, management has a responsibility to seek out the reasons for an exit, particularly if the rationale for the move is not apparent. No demonstrated interest in an exit interview on the behalf of the loosing organization indicates that you are making a good move.

Russ Mahoney from Linkedin said...

"I think that perhaps I came from a similar school to "always exit with grace". First of all not all leaders are managers. I have developed a large amount of trust and respect for some "staffers" that I have worked over the years. The success of a project is not usually due to the sole ability ability of the leader, but also the talent of the team. If the leader makes the "team" look good, the success ful team will will also help the leader look good. It may also be that the leader is NOT disgruntled, or looking for more $$, but perhaps there are simply better positions to lead from and better positions of influence. Career advancement is a natural growth path, like the advancement of personal knowledge. There is no shame to move on for the sake of personal growth. I still get calls (both from inside and outside of my company) from projects from years ago asking "remember when we...", or how did we do...", or how should we approach...", and I am happy to unload for them. Do I want to rejoin those teams? No, but they were instrumental in my personal growth, and they were good people. So, I do not see it as "protecting bridges". Now IF the leader is being "fired", this changes the perspective. I suppose this would also depend upon the "cause" and whether is is justifiable. Is it a performance (or lack of) issue, or an ethics/moral (or lack of)."

Kasia Samulak from Linkedin said...

This depends on the issue in the first place, whether or not it is of moral, legal, or other nature. In each case a person, and not necessarily a leader, is driven by his/her core values whether or not we might agree with them. Other than core values I imagine one is persuaded by his/her financial situation when it comes to terms of agreement to part ways. What should a leader do? Continue on path of being true to his/her core values, take a high ground and do “the right thing”.

Sarah Kellerman from Linkedin said...

John, In order to consider the question - leave with grace (equating grace to silence) or discuss the issues. I must first agree with the premise that leaders are leaving due to undesirable circumstances: no longer effective, being pushed out of the program/company, the program is taking a turn that cannot be agreed with, etc. Otherwise, why not leave with a smile and a handshake? With the environment set as stated above, I look to be truthful and graceful. Truth does not have to be harsh nor does it have to burn bridges. There are times when it does, and perhaps at those times truth must burn the bridge. I believe that if truthful you are building stronger, better bridges. Thank you for such an intriguing question. I will be checking out your blog as well.

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Ashish Sehgal at Ace Genesis said...

One can simply walk ... and there is actually no exit point. If you are a true leader, followers will follow you where ever you go. Its important to be graceful, if you are feeling graceful inside while movign out. If it is an escape, then grace would not matter.

Eric said...

I've thought about this topic to no end, for a while now, actually. I currently hold a leadership position (for going on 2 years now), where I would like to leave to take on different leadership roles, but I know the job is not finished, and to leave now would not be exiting with grace.

I feel I will be ready to leave if I can accomplish the following, which has been shared by many other comments left here (or in other words be able to exit gracefully):
- Leave the organization in a better position than when you took on the leadership role.
- Create new leaders that can "enter with grace" (elections won on bad blood come to mind when thinking of the opposite)
- Tie up any loose ends that most appropriately belong to you.

In another leadership position I now hold (which you, John, were instrumental in gaining me access to), on the first day on the job, my predecessor said "Now, start looking for your replacement." I wish I had heard those words upon taking previous leadership positions. Those words would have set me on the right path and enabled a "slam dunk" of a graceful exit.

Stephen Holmes from Linkedin said...

Always exit with grace, a handshake and a smile. Your former employee will forever be a reference, whether officially or 'behind closed doors' and we all move in close circles. A mad fit of bravado often results in burning your bridges and leaving with grace will lead people to miss you, not say 'glad they're gone'.

Beth Macy from Linkedin said...

A very substantive question and insightful responses. I've been with multiple leaders leaving under differing circumstances, and my guidance to them is to finish the issues that are still strong for them - either positive or negative - so that they don't carry baggage with them into their future work. Of course, easier said than done. But, it's the perceptions and meaning we make of situations that stick with us, and completion of those percepeptions is where the leverage is for our maturation and growing value as leaders. I'll have an article coming out in a couple weeks entitled "Giving Bad News," which touches on this topic if anyone wants to check it: [www.macyholdings.com|leo://plh/http%3A*3*3www%2Emacyholdings%2Ecom/0Gtd?_t=tracking_disc]."

James Felton from Linkedin said...

Thanks John for posting this topic. I agree with all the previous posts. I recall a time when a former colleague of mine turned what was once an ugly relationship with a leader, into a positive reference for a future position simply because they chose to exit with grace. Specifically, the individual agreed to help tie-up loose ends with the company long after they had resigned from the position. Thus, I would contend that it is important never to burn a bridge--because one never knows if they will need to cross it again one day.

Kathleen Schneibel from Linkedin said...

Always leave them wanting more!

Frank Saladis said...

It is always best to leave with grace when ever possible but that is not always achieveable. It is a good idea not to burn bridges but sometimes the bridges are burned by others and for good reason.

Michael Talty said...

Having just left my team of 10 years, I found it was paramount leaving the team inspired and motivated. Leaving everyone with a clear idea of how important they are to the overall success of the organization leaves the mark of great manager. Devote your time making sure the comfort level is high with your subordinates, peers and management of themselves, where appropriate.

Ray said...

I have always been told..."dont burn any bridges". When I feel disconnected from my manager, work, or organization I seem to start looking for other opportunities. I believe there are 3 things to consider. Fit, Links, and Sacrifice. Am I in the right fit? Do I feel a connection to my work, peers, org, manger, etc? Am I going to sacrifice more by leaving that where I am going? The problem with exit surveys, I believe, is that most employees will not give an honest story of why they are leaving. Honesty is the best policy.

Monica Foyer from Linkedin said...

Actually all the Social Networks are becoming a very popular way to recruit, which is why many companies are utlizing their resources to maximize this. It's part of a very rapidly growing trend so John you and your wife's thoughts on coaching in this area are right on track! Anyone not staying up to speed with the technology is going to simply get left behind when it comes to hiring the top talent. Linked In is only one avenue now a days.

P Mills said...

"Love him or hate him...Bush showed us how to exit with grace..."

Time2Shine Consulting said...

"Facebook users have the capacity to restrict what people see on their profile, so really this is only an issue for those that are not yet aware of the permissions they can utilise. Obviously if people are using a social network that they cannot restrict permissions, then John's advice is critical. Facebook also has the capacity for individuals to create their own page, seperate from their profile. I am not aware if this is the case with other social networking platforms. I think that we can educate our students in how to more effectively use Facebook then they can enjoy it in a way that suits their purposes. As an example I have students who have asked to be friends, and I have put them into a 'friends' group that allows me to restrict their ability to see my wall, photos, whatever I decide! I also agree with Paul's post, in that we have LinkedIn as a product to provide our professional face to the electronic world, and in turn, potential employers. It is a very interesting topic!"

Paul Taubman said...

"I want to take this from a different angle - how to employees feel about a leader leaving? At first, you may not care; however, if you are planning on stepping in, you ought think about it because like it, or not, you have to win the hearts of the workforce. From the employee side of things, the emotions of watching a leader exit all depends on the perception of that leader. If that leader was truly admired by the employees, parting is sweet sorrow and a fear of uncertainty can fill the air. One thing is for certain: There is an expectation that the next person in line will be equal or better than the last. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. If you are filling the shoes of a great leader, you better know what you are doing ‘cause the proverbial bar has been set high. Even if that great leader was grooming the next person in line, the person stepping in has to convince the employees that they are going to meet and beat expectations. If a leader that exits did not have the admiration of the employees, there is both pessimism and hope in the air. The pessimism comes from the concern that it will be a different face doing the same thing. There is a hope that maybe, just maybe, the next person will be their knight in shining armor. If you are filling this position, you have to strike fast with positive energy (ie, a gallant introduction speech) and need to execute on making changes that the employees will appreciate."

John DuCharme said...

"Research consistently shows that people don't "quit jobs"; they "quit managers." Research also shows that the predominant factor for people leaving their jobs willingly is the relationship (or lack thereof) they have with their immediate supervisor. Ideally, these employees would communicate this during an exit interview with HR, but there is the "burning bridges" risk. Therefore, HR and other leadership/executives will only know if someone is failing at management after several talented people have left the organization. I think every HR department should offer some type of confidential consultation with employees on an annual basis to gain some perspective on employee/manager relationships and then provide guidance to the employees. While some of the problems may be with the employees themselves, HR professionals will hopefully be astute enough to see when an employee is sincere, hard working and value focused. To be fair, this consultation should also be offered to managers, who may be seeking advice on how to deal with employees who have performance and/or behavioral issues."

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