Leave Better Than You Arrived
This article originally appeared in Forbes on April 29, 2019. Please click here to view original article.
Years ago, my boss said to me, “Hardwick, leave better than you arrived.”
This wisdom is something I often think about both in life and at work. Goodbyes are hard. Hellos, on the other hand, tend to be exciting and filled with the desire to make a difference. I’ve learned throughout my time as a professional coach that goodbyes can often happen after a slew of disappointing, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me moments in the workplace.
How we leave says a lot about how we feel about ourselves and those around us, and if we truly understand the value of strengthening a bridge (as opposed to burning it down). As a leadership consultant, I’ve seen that not everyone leaves their role on a positive note. So before you commit to leaving, ask yourself the following questions to help guide you through this important decision:
- Have you had emotionally healthy, direct and professional conversations with decision makers at work to tell them what is not working for you? Did you give them a chance to respond?
- Have you practiced self-reflection and checked in with trusted advisers to explore whether it’s you or an upsetting situation that’s causing a problem?
- Have you dug deep to ensure you are not doing what I call a “geographical” exit? This means you are making a lateral move and will likely find yourself having the same issues at your new job.
- Have you recognized that no matter where you go, expectations, workflow and demands will likely change?
If after answering these questions you find that you’ve made every attempt to resolve the issues in your workplace that are causing your desire to leave, it might be time to pack up your desk and move on. I’ve observed that sometimes exiting a company can be the healthiest decision for your well-being. If you do feel it’s time to leave, stand tall, and follow these five key tips to help you master the exit:
Regardless of how you feel in the moment, give people time to adjust to your departure.
Regardless of how you feel in the moment, give people time to adjust to your departure. Show self-respect by honoring your commitment even though you need to (and want to) move on. Two weeks is often the standard. Tell your manager about your decision to leave, and give them your resignation letter in person, if you’re able. With travel demands and global teams, this might not be possible, but overall, the letter should be brief and focus on all you have learned. Provide a date for your last day, and offer your support during the transition.
Let your team know about unfinished projects.
Sit down with your boss, colleagues and team to get things organized and prepare for your departure. Inform them of where things stand and what needs to be done so you can make it easy for them once you leave. This might sound small, but it matters.
Inspire your peers.
Leaving can be downright difficult, but it’s important to be a role model for gracious leave-taking. Speak the truth in a balanced way. Behave with emotional wholeness and spiritual strength. I’ve found this will help your reputation soar; after all, your professional growth and future opportunities are important to you. Take the high road. Talk about positive experiences, how you have enjoyed those who have contributed positively to your development and the wisdom you are taking with you. Thank your team in person. Send out an email to key stakeholders on the day you leave underscoring how your time together has helped you grow. Encourage people to stay in touch with you, and plan to do the same with them.
Keep your bridges intact.
Don’t blame or criticize others as you’re leaving. I believe if you did not directly discuss the issue while you were working with them, it’s wise to not point the finger now. Own your decision. No matter the size of your industry, there’s a chance your paths could cross again. Don’t give the impression that deep down, you’re surly and disrespectful as you try to justify why you are leaving by vilifying others. You might need a job reference in the near future, and I’ve found that people notice when a former employer does not sing your praises.
Recognize that you might need improvement as well.
Understand how important it is to drive forward with your best effort, as I believe a great attitude rides shotgun. Throughout my time coaching, I’ve observed that some leaders choose to exit their positions because they feel overworked or that their life lacks balance. If this is why you’re choosing to leave, don’t make anyone else your scapegoat. You want to be known for behaving in mature, healthy ways. Be remembered as someone who contributed to the team. Accept that employers are not solely responsible for your happiness, and by leaving, you are in the process of creating a life that works for you.
Know that people will remember how you leave, as will you. The quality of your work will be seen. Your emotional residue — positive or not — will remain. I believe the shadow we cast when we leave a company can be dark, or it could be a light that glows brightly. From my perspective, good goodbyes are one example of taking care of ourselves. When we have good goodbyes, we can ensure we create a life worth living, a love worth honoring and work worth our everything.