Years ago, I was hired to replace a manager who was staying with the company but moving to another department. In my first meeting with the manager, she provided a synopsis of the 35-member team, identifying winners, troublemakers and the borderline losers (her words). I don’t know what part of the ego her labeling came from, but it was revealing.
Labels aside, I engaged the team through a series of meetings where we introduced ourselves, talked about our backgrounds and discussed performance expectations. When some team members wanted to complain about the previous manager, I stopped them and made it clear that our relationship started the day we met. Any unresolved relationship issues were irrelevant, because I wasn’t interested in co-starring in anybody’s drama.
Several weeks in, I was getting acclimated and having a great time with the team. Our only hitch was the previous manager. She constantly asked me if I was experiencing the same issues with the same people she had. When I said no, she would become agitated and start repeating her synopsis. I realized she wasn’t concerned about a successful transition, but was more concerned about being right. She didn’t want me to replace her—she wanted me to extend her leadership reign.
Although she was like a slow-acting poison, I was patient with her because I understood how difficult it is to watch someone replace you, especially if you don’t know how to let go. If your replacement makes changes, for better or for worse, it means either you were lacking or your replacement is destroying your good works. It’s a difficult situation for the previous manager to witness and some may become too sensitive to the changes, thus creating an ungraceful exit.
After my patience and diplomacy ran its course, I used the advice of Henri Frederic Amiel, “A man must be able to cut a knot, for everything cannot be untied.” So I cut the knot by telling her I wasn’t interested in team members disparaging her and vice versa so hit the road and take your “misery needs company” labeling show with you. Needless to say, she didn’t go quietly, but she did go.
Learning the art of exiting gracefully is challenging because Emotions supersede Intellect and Ego beats the crap out of Common Sense. This is why break-ups are hard and, unfortunately in some cases, filled with bad things like strife and tacky drama coupled with collateral damage—all for the sake of SOMEONE needing to “be right.”
In the worst workplace situations, the “being right” need commonly manifests itself in ungraceful exits. We see this when people:
•Submit their notice and then go on a ‘negativity campaign’ about anything and everyone
•Submit their notice and make a concerted effort not to work another day for two weeks
•Not submit a notice and not return or send an email stating yesterday was their last day
•Commit acts of violence that we see in the news headlines
Exiting a bad personal or professional situation is a puzzle with a lot of pieces. And like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces must interlock to create a bigger picture beyond your current situation. One time I was considering a young candidate for a high stress position and we were on the fence about his decision-making skills. We decided to check his references and a previous employer told us that on his last day, he forged his manager’s signature when he wanted to leave early and the manager wasn’t available. They also said that prior to this incident he was a good employee but this action was unacceptable. If I didn’t already have reservations about his judgment, I could have cited immaturity but since I did, we didn’t hire him.
Considering the bigger picture vs. acting on current frustration may serve you better if you ask yourself “what will I accomplish by trying to exact revenge?” and “what if I need a clearance or reference in the future, will my exit negatively impact this? Even if you are feeling unappreciated or wronged, why taint your previous successes or contributions with a bitter exit?
A better option to serve your bigger picture is to be grateful for your new job and celebrate your victory by giving proper notice, completing all the work you can and creating an action plan for the next person. Just release the “bitter” and move to “better.”
Whether it is a personal or professional exit, sometimes you have to use the motto: “I don’t want to be your friend or foe; it is just time for me to go.” It doesn’t mean the person or the organization isn’t good, it just means they weren’t good for you.
Written by: Gwendolyn M. Ward, Principal at FOOW?