Dana WilsonIn life or a career, the simple fact remains: we all have to go sometime. But the way you leave a position says a lot about you as a person and can determine the success you will have in your next role.

We spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to start new beginnings, often preparing 100-day plans and letting people know about our new role. But how much time do you spend thinking about how you will go? Where is your 100-day exit plan? Do you have a strategy for addressing the psychological impact of leaving, in addition to the checklist of tasks you need to complete?

Whether you are transitioning into a new role within your company or simply leaving altogether, you must pay attention to the landmines that exist on your way. Not doing so can increase risk to the organization . . . and leave your legacy in ruins.

Keep your head in the game

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If you are leaving one organization for another, there is a lot to do in a short period of time. Be sure to communicate an explicit deadline for your departure. In some cases this may be specified by contract. If possible, allow time for projects in process that need to be wrapped up or passed on to someone assigned to move them forward. Can you honestly suggest that some aspects of your position be combined or eliminated? This is the perfect time to reward someone you may have mentored by suggesting they might be ready to fill your shoes. Keep your demeanour professional. Smugness, gloating or a cavalier attitude about the job might earn you an earlier exit than you had planned. Keep in mind that executives in your current company may have contacts that will prove useful to you in the future. Take time to explain your reasons for leaving and seek their good will.

Pulled in two directions

Executives promoted within the same organization can find themselves with a foot in both camps – being asked for help training a successor or completing old duties while trying to achieve early wins for their new boss. If you are moving to another function, try to work with both sets of management to negotiate and set firm boundaries on how much time will be allocated to the old position. If you are in the same department, your experience will be invaluable to those taking over your earlier responsibilities. But be careful. Many executives find it difficult to develop the knowledge and skills required to operate at a different level or in an unfamiliar function. You might find it tempting to seek temporary satisfaction by falling back and working on projects that you were successful at before. Your position can also change relative to others, as when former peers become direct reports or former superiors are now peers. Not everyone will be as thrilled with this new turn of events as you are. One of the critical challenges facing a leader in transition is re-contracting existing relationships. This will effect how you are perceived as you migrate from one position to another.

A graceful exit

On a psychological level, leaving a job involves some degree of loss. If you are leaving an organization involuntarily, it is easy to let anger or depression affect the last days on the job. While it might be fun to indulge in fantasies of burned files and shredded documents, a scorched earth policy will not benefit anyone. Ethics aside, even subtle sabotage may be illegal or place your benefits/severance package in jeopardy. Remember also, that it would be your friends and colleagues who would have to clean up the mess, causing them to lose time on their own workload. Be kind to co-workers. Don’t forget that they are probably mourning your loss. While it might be difficult, work with key stakeholders on transitioning projects as professionally as possible. Don’t underestimate the psychological challenge of letting go. Regardless of the reasons for your departure, it can be difficult emotionally to pass the baton and see someone else run with it. Give yourself enough time, plan ahead, and make sure to exit in a way that leaves your reputation intact.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.

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