Do you find this author’s conclusion and recommendations to be naive or inspiring?
When Jon Stewart and Comedy Central made their announcement that the legendary host would be stepping down from his role on The Daily Show, we got a glimpse into one of the most professional and well-managed resignations on the books. And not just in the entertainment world — his resignation is exemplary for the corporate world too.
Mr. Stewart’s public message had three essential components of an effective and productive resignation: it was well-timed, it was collaborative, and it was self-effacing.
Here is an excerpt from the USA Today report of his announcement:
Stewart, who joined the show in 1999, said his tenure marked “the longest I have ever in my life held a job,” and added, “In my heart, I know it is time for someone else to have that opportunity.” The audience gasped. “Not right away; we’re still working out the details, it might be December, it might be July,” he said. (His contract ends in September).
There’s plenty of time to thank colleagues and admirers, he added, though he thanked viewers for watching it and for “hate-watching it,” and called The Daily Show “an absolute privilege, and the honor of my professional life.”
But “this show doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you.”
Although I have only resigned two companies in my entire career — first in order to join Johnson & Johnson back in 1992 and then to join Liz Claiborne in 2006 — I have witnessed more resignations than I can count. Some were well-handled, and some were not. The “good” ones all shared the three qualities seen in Stewart’s resignation, and the “bad” ones violated two or three of them.
Jon Stewart’s resignation was well-timed for a few reasons. On the one hand, it coincided with a contract expiration, meaning he plans to fulfill his end of the bargain he made many years ago. But the timing was also right because he essentially gave notice eight months in advance of the contract expiring. While many in the corporate and small business world work without contract terms, they nonetheless have responsibilities and commitments. Timing a resignation to a natural milestone or break point in some of these duties — or planning far enough in advance — can go a long way toward leaving your former employer grateful for your service. While many people are afraid to confront their boss with the news of a planned departure, the best resignations I have been a part of were the ones that were actually planned in advance — greater than the standard two weeks. I have even seen some of the most indispensible team members negotiate favorable “completion bonuses” for staying for a period beyond the “expected” two weeks, in order to complete some key element of the job before moving on to a new job at a different, non-competing company.
The second quality I admire in Stewart’s resignation is the clear and visible collaboration he struck with his employer. One gathers this from the consistently positive tone we’ve seen in every news story on the resignation, with neither side leaking their own story or subplot. While it seems clear that Comedy Central would have welcomed a contract renewal, the network embraced Stewart’s personal agenda and agreed to work with him to make a smooth and successful transition. Each party appears grateful to the other, and is working together to enhance each other’s reputations. They also appear to be looking for a “win-win” transition, having settled neither who nor when a successor will be named. This leaves open the possibility of Mr. Stewart leaving before or after the actual contract term ends — for the good of both parties. On more than one occasion I accepted the offer of resigning executives to provide some availability for phone calls even after their last day on the job, in order to offer advice or counsel to their replacement. Win-win. In the business world, even a contested departure — one in which disagreements may be on the table and part of the motivation — can be collaborative. And I would argue that it shouldn’t be just the human resources leaders who need to be steering these discussions to a win-win mindset. The resigning individual must employ every constructive technique available to elevate the esteem of the situation. And that requires a collaborative approach. And that leads to third quality I admire in Stewart’s example.
Resignations can be very disruptive to a team. When one person goes, it often causes others to question their own paths, their own progress, their own needs and wants. So while it is important to pursue your own plans — and leave a job or company when the time comes — a well-executed resignation does it in a self-effacing way. Stewart has paid homage to the network and the staff and the brand of_The Daily Show_ in virtually every public appearance since his announcement. Instead of gloating about what might come next, he has shown respect for what the experience gave him. He even acknowledges that there may be someone else out there who deserves the job, and in so doing, props up the position he is leaving behind.
I’ve seen some of the finest and most professional leaders I know leave their jobs and simultaneously and sincerely espouse their faith in the company and the people they are leaving — imparting a sense of dignity to those left behind. I believe this self-effacing behavior needs to be part of the “public” communication, but also embedded into the confidential resignation discussions themselves. This isn’t pandering. This is constructive. Finding a way to be grateful for the experience — even in unpleasant circumstances — will only enhance your outlook on life.
In the end, I am all for the individual. And that means I am committed to encouraging people I work with to pursue their passions and dreams and needs, even if it means leaving a company. Having worked for very large and professional organizations my whole life, I have learned and seen firsthand the value of being considerate when parting ways with a company. Time it right, be collaborative, and minimize the “self” in crafting and executing your goodbye.