My colleague sat across the table from me last week. He’d just resigned. “I’ve loved my time here. I want to leave without burning any bridges,” he told me. And then said he wanted to depart within a very short time frame, which would leave his business leaderless and seriously destabilize staff and clients. He was about to commit one of the biggest career stuff ups we can make. Get this wrong, and it haunts you forever. Here it is.
I am a great believer in trying to make the grass greener on this side of the fence. Work hard to get your current roles better for you before jumping ship. But sometimes a move is the right course. Of course it is. The trick is to make an elegant exit.
When my colleague told me he want to depart very quickly, I shared a piece of advice with him from my heart, and from 30 years of experience in business. I can’t recall where I heard it, and I can’t find it online. I also don’t know whether I am articulating it correctly here. But frankly, it does not matter. It’s magical advice for protecting our reputations, our personal ‘brands’ and ensuring we don’t burn bridges. It’s very simple.
The making of a person is the manner of their leaving.
It’s as simple as that. The way you leave something, whether a relationship or a job, is going to be the most powerful thing you are remembered for. I know that might seem unfair, but it’s the reality.
You may have been a great colleague, and delivered outstanding results, but leave in a poor fashion, where your colleagues feel let down and puzzled at how you could have done whatever it is you did in leaving, and that is what you will be remembered for. It will over-power all the good you did and the wonderful goodwill equity you built through hard work and commitment. Kapow. Gone.
We must all embrace change, and also take risks. We need to stay uncomfortable and push ourselves to embrace growth. If you are green you grow; if you are ripe you rot. Risk, change, and growth often come from changing jobs or roles. It’s natural and fair to review other opportunities, and sometimes they will provide the new step forward you need. Fair enough.
But think carefully about how to extricate yourself from your current reality and commitments. Make sure you manage the process and the communication with respect, integrity, candor and sensitivity. Pay real attention to the manner of your leaving.
Believe me on this – it is what you will be remembered for. Don’t screw it up.