leaving_well

“I quit!”

Millennials are changing the way Americans think about work. A recent Gallup study revealed some fascinating data. “Millennials are the most likely generation to switch jobs. Six in ten millennials are open to new job opportunities. Millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace.” While some will say that “Millennial job-hopping” isn’t all bad, one of the real challenges for leaders of all ages comes in leaving our positions well.

Today, I read this data through a unique lens. I’m living an odd Millennial story. I spent my first ten years out of college working at the same organization. I began as an intern and left as a member of the executive team. Even stranger, this organization was the very same place where I dealt with significant disappointment, bitterness, and cynicism — yet was able to process through all of that without needing to leave. The story still amazes me!

However, I was recently recruited to join another organization as their new leader. I began my new role earlier this month. Having boxed up all of my stuff, attended my goodbye lunch and walked out of my old office for the last time, I’m still processing my departure and the way I left.

Leaving Well

We often underestimate the importance of endings and beginnings. People remember them vividly. The microscope is on us; everything we do is bigger than it actually is.

I do not know of a perfect ending and mine certainly was not perfect either. However, I’ve learned nine lessons I hope will help you the next time you leave one position for another.

1. Prepare for your ending in advance.

As leaders, we hate surprises. So, on a personal level, make financial provisions for your transition with savings or unused vacation time. If you have the trust and support, begin talking to your supervisor as you pursue your next position. Negotiate your transition period in a way that meets your needs but also doesn’t hamper the organization. Don’t drag out your transition or leave too abruptly. If you have to err on one side or the other, though, I personally feel it would be better to leave quickly than to have people murmuring, “When is he ever going to get out of here?!”

2. Admit and own your mistakes.

As leaders, we live between the ideal and the real. Our tenure of leadership is never perfect. We could identify many reasons why events didn’t go the way we wanted or planned. However, we must resist the desire to make excuses. People want to follow authentic leaders who admit their shortcomings.

3. Use the three magic phrases often (“Please”, “I’m sorry”, and “Thank you”).

We often fail to realize how much our transition impacts the team members who stay. Their plate might fill or overflow with added responsibility. Where you’ve had conflict, make amends and pursue reconciliation. Ultimately, people matter most. Spend your time with people in the last days. Final conversations regularly produce opportunities to speak words that would be rejected at worst or awkward at best otherwise.

4. Don’t burn bridges.

While hard feelings may emerge during your transition, resist the desire to blast your company or its management. Future employers will call your supervisor(s), and you might need to come back to the organization in the future.

5. Finish strong.

Finishing strong isn’t easy or normal, but it speaks volumes about character and intention. One of most encouraging parts of my transition was the unsolicited comments from team members who noticed my intentionality. If we don’t finish well where we are, we won’t do well where we’re going. Because people remember how we finish, finishing strong leaves a lasting impression.

6. Leave things better than you found them.

Think back to your first days in your position. What did you wish the previous person had left for you? What context would have aided you in making decisions? As I transitioned from my previous organization, I shared a white paper with the rest of the executive team, describing the status of the area I led. I also provided data from recent research we had done within the organization and recommendations based upon the data for future decisions. I wanted to “pay it forward,” doing for the next person what I wish had been done for me.

7. Honor those who led you.

We could probably list many faults in those who led us. However, leadership is never easy, and none of us are perfect. I’ve learned honor publicly leads to influence privately. If we honor our leaders in public, even in departure, we may gain opportunities to speak into the future of their leadership in a way that helps those we’re leaving behind.

8. Thank and encourage those you led.

In a world of gift cards and mass emails, a simple handwritten thank-you note goes further than we realize. I wrote almost too many thank you notes when I left my last role. The notes were as much to encourage and thank others as they were to remind me that my success was not a solo act, but rather a community effort. Encourage others by recognizing their investment in you and your common mission.

9. Process what you learned so you can apply it to your next venture.

Writing this article was a piece of my processing. I’ve also journaled and sat down with friends to talk through what I’ve learned from the last ten years of my career. Whether we journal or not, we must allocate time to reflect on our experiences. When we mine our successes and failures for insights and lessons, we can apply them to lead better and serve in our new positions.

Leaving something known and comfortable for something unknown and risky is never easy. However, we are often more ready than we realize.