This is Part One of a two-part series called Leading While Leaving. Today, we are going to talk about things you must always do. Next week, I’ll talk about the things you should never do.
Leaving an organization can be terribly difficult but it doesn’t have to be. There are so many good reasons why you find yourself having to decide “should I stay or should I go now?” Sometimes the decision is made for you. It could be that you would never choose to leave but someone chose for you. Regardless of the reason, leaving is a natural part of the career life cycle.
One of the things that I admire about younger leaders is the way they refuse to allow the organization to define them. Because it doesn’t define their identity, they are far more adept at leaving when it’s time. Some leave too early, but that’s a topic for another episode.
So if you are a young leader, then recognize the struggle that exists culturally for those considerably older than you. Those men and women left home with a vision. A long tenure was not exceptional. Security was the goal. A good retirement plan and health benefits were a plus.
As a result, many hoped they would retire from the first company that hired them. “Does this company have a future that I can measure in decades?” is not an unreasonable question if you look at their value driver. Long equals safe and so safe equals being able to pay for college or cancer treatment.
You have a skill-set, an approach to your career, that can assist those who feel lost in a sea of instability. My health insurance premium is the most expensive cost in my household budget. It’s more than my mortgage payment. This is what many want to avoid and it causes fear or anxiety to grow at an alarming rate.
Remember, past generations were taught to value longevity. Many have a misguided view of loyalty, thinking that if they just do everything right, then they can stay as long as the company continues to operate. You, my young friends, have the advantage of expecting tumult and unpredictability. It’s one of your greatest strengths. You don’t have an unreasonable expectation here.
You want to make a difference where you work and you value contribution or recognition more than a guarantee of employment. So I want you to practice empathy and open your eyes to see your team members who are nervous about being in their 40s, 50s, or 60s, fearing that they will have to go look for a job. It brings great strain. And not just on the employee (or soon-to-be-
As a younger leader, one way that you can make a massive difference is by refusing to fall into the trap of only hiring people like you. Search for, and find value in, those who don’t look like you, think like you or react like you. Dig deep for skillsets that are complimentary. So find what’s missing in your team and don’t let age, race, or sex interfere with your commitment to building an effective team.
And it falls on the shoulders of every leader to overcome discrimination regardless of what form it takes. I encourage you, actually, I implore you, to put aside your assumptions about capability as it relates to age, race, sex, religion, political view, etc. You hire for attitude and train for competence. It might feel like a draft where you have no idea what you are going to get, but that’s why you have an interviewing and hiring process. Thoroughly vet your candidates and save yourself the pain of moving too quickly with a hiring decision.
What does that have to do with anything? EVERYTHING! Sometimes an employee will leave because they were brought into the wrong role. Maybe they leave because of a terrible manager or an inefficient leader. Or what if they had expectations and you never took the time to discuss those with them? Believe it or not, it’s not a bad thing to be leaving one role for another. Especially if you have been in a roll for a long period of time.
Start Looking When Challenge Is Absent
I wish that I had paid closer attention to this advice earlier in my career. If you are in a role for more than two or three years, you should look to move on. Good leaders look for ways to challenge their team. So if you aren’t being challenged, then start looking for other alternatives. It doesn’t mean you have to leave the company. Look internally as well as externally. Speak frankly with your leader. If your leader can’t help you then you will get to create your own challenge!
When it’s clear that the organization is not a good fit for you, assess the likelihood of whether you will be able to a
Identify Key Learnings
Look, if you could have done things differently, you might choose not to be in this predicament. Maybe all of this is happening through no fault of your own. The best thing you can do when encountering undesirable circumstances is intentionally look for what you can learn from the experience. This is important: don’t miss an opportunity to educate yourself on handling a significant challenge.
It would be easier to run away. You’ll want to! You know that job opportunity you turned down last month? Don’t waste your time wishing you had taken it. Because you can’t undo the past, the decision is made. So make the best of it – and honestly, these opportunities don’t come very often.
Increase Your Involvement
This one will make you mad. Instead of running away, I recommend that you figure out how to increase your involvement. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but what can you do to embed yourself in the undesirable process? It sounds like treason and there will be those on your team who don’t understand; they are baffled by what they believe is your ignorance!
But there is a method to your madness. When you work to ensure the success of a transition and offer maximum effort though you are negatively affected, it helps you. What? How is that possible? Don’t misunderstand. Everything is different now. Hopefully, you now recognize that working to and then beyond burnout, is not benefiting you or your standing within the organization. This is another lesson that I was slow to learn. You know what the right amount of effort looks like. Make sure you give that.
By increasing your involvement during your time remaining, they will not be able to ignore this. Because it’s uncommon to see this kind of effort, not only will it be impossible to ignore, you will stick out like a sore thumb. Mission Accomplished. You want and will hear everyone talking about you. This time, it will be for good reasons!
Engage In The Transition
Transitioning when you are leaving can be agonizing. If you didn’t choose to go and you now have to hand-off your responsibilities to someone else, you might be tempted to reduce your effort. That would be a mistake. In my experience, you want to be known for tireless effort to ensure the success of your successor!
As you might expect, this is incredibly difficult for some leaders to get their head around. As a result, they are slow to act in a way that is beneficial for their team, for the incoming leader, and for the company. It might not seem fair, but your job has not changed even though your role has: make the team a success. Ouch.
When you look back, you will be so glad that you did all you could. No one will be able to say that you “checked out” or even worse, that you worked against the transition. You will gain massive amounts of respect as you do what no one expected. So give it your best.
Ask For References, Recommendations, And Endorsements
Because you have done such an exceptional job while working in your role, this is easy. Your manager, your executives, your team members will be happy to give you a reference. If they know someone working in a company or industry where you would like to work, then they will gladly make a recommendation. It’s easy to endorse you when you have demonstrated the qualities of a great team member. Remind yourself and others of your contributions. You have added value; therefore, it’s good to talk about it.
Leave As A Professional
I know the type of people who listen to this podcast. It goes without saying that you always leave as a professional. You maintain the bridges you have built, keeping them intact and refusing to burn them. You will be pushed beyond what you thought you could bear at times, but it’s critical that you remember this: it is not worth the momentary satisfaction of putting someone in their place. That will make you look small and petty. Keep it professional at all times.
One additional way to maintain your professionalism is to be grateful. So treat everyone politely. Note, I intentionally did not say to treat everyone with respect. Not everyone deserves respect, but they do deserve being treated with basic human kindness.
Finally, it’s okay to grieve. Expectations weren’t met. You invested time and energy, maybe even blood, sweat, and tears. It’s frustrating and painful for things to turn out differently than planned. As a result, you may find yourself hurting. So don’t try to hurry past this. I’ll come back on a future episode to discuss the five stages of grief – you will instantly understand the connection and hopefully find hope in the fact that you aren’t a weirdo for feeling so passionate about your job.
You get to choose what you focus on. Maybe you are leaving because you chose to, or maybe because you were forced. Either way, CHOOSE to expect a brighter tomorrow. Great leaders have a better future because they go create it!
Join me on the next episode of the Leader to Leader podcast when I will talk about the things you should never do when leaving. You are a leader whether staying or leaving so make sure you act like one!
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