Don’t Trip on the Exit (#212)

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Welcome to another solo episode of the How’d It Happen Podcast. In this episode, I want to ask my listeners: Are you proud of who you show up as a leader and a person during challenging times? How are you handling when someone leaves the company, whether voluntary or involuntary? You will also hear stories that are great examples of what I’m talking about in this episode. I hope this will give you lessons that you can take in your workplace or business.

Full transcript below

Episode timestamps:

[2:18] As a leader, act with grace when someone leaves
[3:00] A story from my experience
[6:08] Here’s a story from one of my friends
[7:45] What would you do?
[9:22] Are you proud of who you show up as?
[13:50] Outro

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Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. This is Mike, and I am alone again today doing a solo episode. I wanted to talk about something that I don’t think I’ve ever read about before; there’s probably been something in the Harvard Business Review or some other publication that I’ve missed about it, but I can tell you for sure that I haven’t heard enough about this. I’m calling this episode “Don’t Trip on the Exit,” and what I want to talk about is how we, as leaders handle it when someone leaves our company, either voluntarily or involuntarily, as the case might be.

It’s funny because you read a lot or you hear a lot about what the expectation is for a team member or an employee leaving an organization. That’s right: don’t burn any bridges, be very thankful for the opportunity, just have a lot of grace, I guess, when it comes to a decision to leave. And that’s whether you’re leaving voluntarily, or whether you’re leaving involuntarily. And I’ll admit that when you’re leaving involuntarily from a job or from a company, it may not be easy to act with grace, but that’s what we expect people to do. We expect them to act with grace when that happens. And sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. But as leaders, I think we owe it to everybody on our teams, past, present and future, to act with grace when we’re involved in one of those situations, whether it’s a resignation or termination for whatever reason. I have not always acted with Grace, I’m going to tell you that right now. And the story I’m going to share with you is a real story that that happened not so long ago to one of my friends.

But before I get to that story, I’m going to tell you about a real story that happened to me. We had a professional driver as a team member of our company, many years ago. And it seemed like I always had kind of a love/hate relationship with this fellow. But we were often hot and cold, sometimes oil and water. But we got along enough for a long time to keep him employed, and I was happy enough to have him on the team. But then it just kind of built up a little bit over time over time. He’d say something I wouldn’t like, and I’d kind of let it go. And I’d probably say something he didn’t like, and he’d probably let it go. And one day, I was at home actually having dinner and he called me and we got into a little bit of a discussion that I didn’t care for. I don’t think he cared for it either. I got really mad, and I finished my dinner and went down to our shop and found his truck, and I just tore everything out of his truck. And I didn’t do it in a nice way. I basically threw all of his stuff out of the truck. And that was it for him. I basically fired him over the phone and then went down and got all his stuff out of the truck like I was s tyrant of some sort. And I tossed it on the ground and then he had to come get it. And I’m not even sure if I put it in boxes. I don’t remember, but it was a horrible thing to do. For me as the leader, I’m talking about success habits with people and trying to set the right example and doing the How’d It Happen podcasts with so many wonderful people who I hope have never done anything like that before. But, I did it, and while I was doing it, I actually kind of felt good. And then when I saw it, and I actually thought about it, it was like, “what a jerk, what an ass.” I never should have done that. And he didn’t deserve that. I didn’t deserve to go to that level, that’s for sure. And anyone who saw me and there were people still there, you know, working, who saw me, they must have thought I was some type of crazy person. And I think I gave up a lot of trust, or I spent at least a lot of trust that I had built up in banks over the years, by being that person, by not being calm and steady, like I tell people they should be. So that’s my experience. It did happen a long time ago. And jeez, I hope I’m a lot better than that.

But now, but here’s a real story that happened not very long ago. And as I mentioned, it happened to one of my friends, and I just want you to think about it and maybe think about how you would have responded or whether you’ve responded this way, and if so, how it made you feel or how it makes you feel.

So, my friend had had a high-level position, and had been with the company for, I don’t know, over a decade. So, for a long time, he’d been in a position of leadership, and he got a new opportunity that was, in this person’s mind, better than the opportunity that they had and more upside for the career, for the family, for the goals, the desires that the person had. And after fretting about the decision for a really long time, he went to give the notice, and got a chance to sit down with the CEO, which wasn’t the plan. That’s not where the resignation was going to happen. But this meeting intervened in between and discussion about the future came up, and it became the opportune time, the right time to let the CEO know that the person was moving on. And the thing is, what do you do when you know someone who’s a really strong performer — or someone that’s, you know, you’ve expected would be with the company forever and you keep moving up at your pace, perhaps not their pace, but at your pace — comes in and lets you know that they’re taking another position, and they’ll be leaving very shortly. It’s a real out-of-the-blue thing. It’s like a blindside on the survivor show. So how to handle that?

And like I mentioned at the beginning, the obvious answer is to handle it with grace. And only with grace. But, you know, it’s not that easy all the time, because emotions run really high in moments like these, and there’s been no time to prepare. And so you’re operating in the moment, from a position of surprise, and it can become a very uncomfortable atmosphere. Not being prepared for something is something that scares a lot of people, you don’t know what to do. And for me, it’s like, these are the times that really challenged, but also make you as a leader. You know, the times when you’re hurt, when you’re defensive, when you’re protective, or when something goes really wrong.

So my question is: Are you proud of who you show up as in times like these? I told you about one instance, where I was definitely not, and I’m sure there have been others. But what about you? Are you proud of who you show up as in times like these? So let me tell you how my friend’s boss, the CEO, handled it. So the CEO is one of these really highly regarded people, he runs a very large business, a lot of employees, the kind of CEO who gets profiled in the business journals of the world, you know, gets recognized, very recognized. Here’s this CEO handled the news. Like all of us, he had the opportunity to be grateful for what my friend had brought to the table at his company all those years and that he had the opportunity to be happy for my friend. He had the opportunity to live up to what he preached and to be the “who” that he’s been glamorized for being. And he didn’t do that. He had the opportunity to conduct himself with grace. And he blew it. Instead of operating with grace, instead of being happy, instead of being grateful, and instead of living up to what he preached, he became angry. He berated my friend, told my friend that he wouldn’t be happy, told my friend that this decision would ruin his life, would be soul-crushing, be bad for his family, and on and on and on and on. And as I was listening to this, I was thinking to myself, Oh nicely done, boss. You had a moment to be gracious and thankful. You had a moment to be the hero of the story. The person who acted with grace, and instead, you tripped over the exit. And you bloodied your nose really badly when you hit the ground, metaphorically speaking.

So I know that having grace in challenging situations isn’t easy. But I also know it’s right. And isn’t that the who you want to be? Yeah, the leader who is so sure, they can continue and build something great, even if someone decides to leave. But more than that, the person who really has an opportunity to not burn that bridge, like I talked about at the beginning. We’re always talking about employees not burning bridges. But what about leaders? You know, do you think my friend would be anxious, say the new opportunity doesn’t work out? Do you think my friend is going to be anxious to come back to that company? I doubt it. You think my friend might have been anxious to come back to a company that had a CEO who was super gracious when he decided to leave and take another opportunity, to come back and say, hey, you know, didn’t work out; I’d love to come back and see if I can continue to help the company get it where you want it to be? I think for sure. For sure. So again, my question to you is: are you proud of who you show up as in those tough times, times when you’re blindsided, times when one of your best people decides they’re going to walk out the door? Something to think about? Thanks for listening.

Mike Malatesta

Mike Malatesta

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