What I Learnt Resigning as a Leader/Manager

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Before I get in to my learnings I feel it is important to cover off the difference between a leader and a manager, and why I included the term “Leader” in the title of this post. From my perspective “manager” is a role title that is assigned by a company, “leader” is a role that is bestowed by the team. Throughout my career I have met many managers who are not leaders, and also many leaders who are not managers. I have always made it clear to my team that I am only a leader if they consider me to be one; I have also made it clear that I see a number of people in my team as being leaders. So that brings me to why I included “Leader” in the title of this article; when talking to my team about my resignation I have often made mention that a manager leaving a role is not uncommon and it is no reason to think a significant shift will happen (of course it might, but it isn’t a guarantee), many times I’ve been told that the issue isn’t that a manager is leaving, but that someone they see as a leader is leaving. Although I often think I am unworthy of the “leader” title that has been bestowed on me, the opinion of the team that I am a leader has heavily influenced the impact of my resignation, and thus I felt it important to add the term in the title of this post.

So, now I’ve clarified that, it’s time to look at the impact and the results of my resignation. This article is not an exact record of what happened; to help anonymise individuals I have merged and separated some happenings across people, but the important aspects have been left unchanged.

I tended my resignation on a Thursday morning. Initially I did this orally to my manager, but as our video call was drawing to a close I sent a written confirmation to him. I made my reasons for leaving clear verbally, and I was open and honest about wanting to ensure the team and the products we support continued to be successful. We agreed on a time frame to allow the business to prepare and communicate between senior management prior to me announcing to the team my intentions.

After handing in my notice, and before informing the team I had a one-on-one with a team member. In hindsight, I should have rescheduled this. Throughout the one-on-one I could feel that I was holding back, I was preoccupied with what I was going to say to the team, and I feel I let this individual down by not being able to give them my full attention.

I elected to tell the team about my decision at our daily stand-up. I allowed the stand-up to progress normally, and as it was drawing to a close I made my announcement. This wasn’t the perfect time for it as a couple of team members were not in attendance, but it felt like right place, and I would likely choose this time for similar announcements. Immediately after telling the team I made arrangements to talk to one individual who was called away from the meeting, and I send an instant message to the team member that was off sick. I wanted to ensure that everyone heard it from me first, and not through rumour.

As we are approaching the holiday season I made it clear to the team that I was happy to discuss any concerns they may have, and I also let them know that I would be contactable over the break if they felt the need to talk. I also told them exactly when my last day would be, and I reassured them that I would be actively working to ensure any transition was as smooth as possible.

As I’ve progressed through the one-on-ones following my resignation I’ve been surprised at the level of disruption that I’ve created. I’ve had to be very careful with my words to make it clear that this is a decision about me and my future with the company; I’ve had to highlight that just because this is the right decision for me, it may not be an appropriate decision for others in the team. Each of the one-on-ones I’ve held so far have run over time. The content of them has also been different with a lot of time devoted to reassuring individuals that their job security has not changed, that during my notice period I will still be actively working with them to help them grow, and that they shouldn’t make any rash decisions about their future with the company.

When I made my decision to leave I spent a lot of time coming to terms with it being a selfish decision; I had to put myself and my future first. I have been open an honest with the team about this. For the team members that have asked, I’ve made myself available to them in a mentoring capacity. I have also informed them of a restriction in my employment contract that prohibits me from encouraging them to leave their current employment, and how this may impact so of the value I could provide as a coach. I’ve been open about my reasons for leaving, but I have also actively worked to avoid focus on the negatives and to also highlight some of the positives I’ve found in my experience.

Throughout this process (even though it started less than a week ago) I have learnt that both individually and as a team my leadership has had a much greater impact than I realised. I’ve had team members tell me they are struggling to find a future in the company without my guidance, which I have chosen to take as a massive compliment to my skills and abilities. I’ve had team members suddenly open up to be as if the perceived role of a manager has suddenly shifted. I’m expecting at least one team member to see my departure as a sign of abandonment and to reduce or cease interacting with me; I’m not yet sure how I will handle this, but it is something I am consciously looking for signs of.

So far in this article I’ve focussed on the impact on people within my team, on the team, and to some degree on myself. I haven’t looked at the impact on my manager and others in the company’s management team.

When I presented my resignation my manager and I had an open discussion, at this level I think that is to be expected. We discussed my reasons for leaving, how I can see the company improving and some of the ideals I believe are helping the team to increase their performance.

I’m sure there are many impacts that I’m not aware of, but one I am aware of is that my manager is reaching out to each member of my team; I’m hoping this is to find out what actions the company can take to ensure that the transition from period from my resignation through the onboarding of my replacement or the change in structure is as seamless as possible.

One thing that this experience has really highlighted for me is the need to have a plan ready to enact when someone leaves an organisation. I’ve had a number of questions from my team (and from people external to my team) wondering what happens next; unfortunately I haven’t been able to answer this satisfactorily.

To summarise all of this, I believe my key learnings have been that I have underestimated my value and impact on the team; it’s important to be prepared for some open and honest conversations with unexpected people; and if possible, have a transition plan prepared in advance of resigning (ideally before you even think of looking for a new role).