This week has been very emotional for Americans, and for some of us, nothing short of heartbreaking. But regardless of your politics, you have to admire the incredible grace with which Hillary Clinton conceded the race to her rival early Wednesday morning, after the most bitter and hard-fought campaign in memory. She wished her rival success as the new President and she expressed gratitude to her millions of supporters. She showed the leadership and grace for which many millions have come to love her.. Rather than let any hint of revenge or bitterness take root, she reminded everyone that “Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power “We don’t just respect that. We cherish it.”
At the same time, she held true to her values—some of which have appeared under siege during this ugly election cycle—noting that our constitution also “enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.” She ended on a somber but hopeful note saying: “My friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”
I was moved by her humility and strength, as I’m sure many were, and it also felt to me like a familiar scenario writ large. When one has to leave the company they love, the company they’ve built; how do they do so gracefully? I watch this play out in business all the time, where a founder has difficulty leaving ego aside and seeing the signs everyone else can see: that he’s no longer the best leader for the company. The advice I commonly give on the subject is:
· Have an exit strategy from the outset. Under what circumstances would you leave? How will you recognize when those circumstances exist?
· How do you feel going into work every day? How do you feel when you imagine not going in? I recognized it was time for me to leave Plum when going to work felt like drudgery day in and day out, and the prospect of not going in felt like freedom. Naturally, everyone will have bad days or even weeks. But if those bad days stretch into months, there’s a problem.
· Are you what the business needs? Do more objective voices think so too? There’s no shame in recognizing that while you were fantastic for a certain stage of the business, it will do better now in someone else’s hands. If you think you’re the right person to stay the course, then ask your board or other objective parties the same question. Be careful not to only ask those you’re close with and who are attached to your staying. Your departure will be hard for them, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Always ask, what’s best for the business, not what’s best for you.
· If you go, go gracefully. A scorched earth approach will leave you with personal regret and, likely, a few enemies. Look at it like sending a child off to college. It’s bittersweet, but clinging too long or making the goodbye too painful doesn’t change the inevitable—it just makes it more difficult for everyone.
· Take care of yourself. Leaving a company that you’ve founded or been at the helm of is a big deal and can make for a difficult adjustment. Make sure the people in your life understand this and give you the support you need.
There’s a song in the musical Hamilton called “One Last Time,” wherein George Washington explains how his not running for president again will teach a nation how to say goodbye:
“If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on.
It outlives me when I’m gone.”
Whether politician or businessperson, this is a pretty powerful legacy to leave.