We leave teams and organizations.
We move on from customers or they move on from us.
We have conflict with colleagues and bosses.
We make imperfect decisions which leads to a delay in a project.
Many leaders face these types of situations throughout their career and sometimes regret the steps they take. They look back on how they handled their exit or challenge and wish they had acted differently. They worried that they might have burned bridges and created a permanent disconnection with people they may see again.
This past week I spoke with a leader who finally decided to leave her job after working in a service business for over 20 years. It was a difficult decision but one that was critical for her to make to maintain her sanity and health. She could have handled her departure in many different ways but she chose to leave on a high note with dignity. This leader purposefully selected an exit ramp that will leave the door open to future connections. Why? The answer is simple: we never know whom we will be working with or needing in our future. Therefore, never burn your bridges.
Here are seven strategies for leaders not to burn bridges:
1. Leave With Gratitude
The best move ever when leaders tender their resignation is to acknowledge how valuable to you the experience has been working for an organization. When we tell our teams how much we enjoyed working with them and how much we grew as leaders from being part of such an inspiring organization, we begin to build bridges.
2. Offer To Help With A Transition
The leader I mentioned earlier agreed to stay on for several weeks and help transition the new person. That was an epic offer. But there are many ways leaders can help with a transition.
- Offer the names of co-workers who might be a great fit for your job
- Give input about the skills and knowledge necessary for the next person
- Be reasonable about the timeframe of when you are leaving and be open to negotiation if necessary
- Show your employer they matter to you
3. Share A Departure With Customers Carefully
Telling our customers about leaving a firm can be tricky so we must do it with care. What does that look like? The leader I spoke with told customers about the positive aspects of making her move and how this next step will help her grow her skills. She didn’t focus on the frustrations of her current job but rather on the benefits of her change. Stay positive.
4. Never Bad Mouth An Old Employer
A big “no-no” in leaving for leaders is to tear apart the old company. It serves no purpose to put down an organization we are leaving but to burn some bridges.
- Try to share good experiences
- Talk about the different skills in your new position
- Leave your anger behind
5. Keep Up With Old Co-workers
To keep building bridges leaders stay in contact with their previous networks. That could mean connecting every so often for drinks or coffee. Reach out to see how your old teammates are doing and what is happening with the old firm. Send a birthday note. Keep in touch.
6. Admit Mistakes And Share Lessons
To make sure leaders don’t burn bridges when they make mistakes or have missteps, help team members see what you have learned to avoid the next time. To be credible, leaders need to:
- Be open about the things they messed up
- Ask others for ways to remedy the challenging situation
- Give credit for the assistance
- Broadcast what was learned
7. Don’t Hold Grudges From Conflicts
We’ve all been in situations where we faced conflict due to different perspectives or even personality clashes. Those difficult conversations can often stay with us if we allow ourselves to harbor grudges. So instead, empower yourself to move on and tackle your next project. Breathe. Prevent further bridge burning.
How have you avoided burning bridges along the way?
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