What’s the Best Way to Exit a Leadership Role?


In a stunning move on Tuesday April 9th, NBA legend Magic Johnson announced he was stepping down as president of the Los Angeles Lakers in an impromptu press conference.

His exit has since been met with a mix of criticism and praise from the press and fans. Johnson further defended his controversial decision in an unusual manner. Instead of discussing the next steps for the Lakers, Johnson opened the discussion to his personal life. He stated that he was happier not to be president because the role’s conditions kept “the real Magic” from coming out.

While I applaud Johnson’s decision to leave the Lakers in pursuit of his own personal happiness, I know that, realistically, such a move wouldn’t work when it comes to small businesses. Few, if any, entrepreneurs could step down from a leadership role without some sort of succession plan. Yet, it does happen frequently with managers and executives. They will step down for new roles elsewhere, and it’s up to the business to have a plan of action for what to do next.

Is there a good way to exit a leadership position? No matter what level of leadership you’re at, here’s what you should do before bidding farewell to the role.

Give more than two weeks’ notice.           

The standard notice for departing any job is two weeks. If you are in a significant leadership role, like a department supervisor, you may want to give three weeks’ notice. Or, even up to a month in advance.

Why so much extra time? It may seem excessive in theory, but what it does is prepare the business for a successor in your absence. They may use this time, alongside the departing member, to train the next chain of command to learn the ropes and take over. If something happens and your business doesn’t have nearly enough employees to fill the role, it’s enough time to create job postings and start interviewing talent to hire.

Tell your boss first, then everyone else.

There was one thing Johnson did when he resigned from his Lakers role that I disagreed with. He held a press conference informing everyone of his decision, but his boss Jeanie Buss. The reasoning behind Johnson not telling Buss first was that she might try to talk him out of it.

This is not a surprising move for those in leadership positions. When a terrific employee announces their plans to leave a company, some managers will try to find ways that keep them on board. However, it’s an unspoken rule of thumb that anyone planning to depart a company tells their higher-ups and human resources first. The last thing you want to do is to tell everyone else, but your boss about your decision and let them find out through the office gossip grapevine. Schedule in a time to chat with the person you report to, and meet one-on-one to share intentions to exit with them.

Write a thoughtful resignation letter.

Do not depart over text, voicemail, or even email. The most graceful way to exit any leadership role is by writing a letter and giving a copy to your employer.

What all goes into your letter? While the letter should cover a few key points, it doesn’t need to be as short and simple as a letter might be for a role like, an internship for example. You’ve accumulated enough years on the job and left behind a mark that you can go slightly more in-depth than usual.

Here’s what those in leadership positions can include in their resignation letters.

  • Standard departure information. This includes the name of the role you are exiting and your effective last day at the company.
  • Achievements and lessons learned within your role. You don’t need to wax on about where you’re heading next, but you can share some of the highlights of your time in your position. Talk about major achievements you were able to spearhead in and out of your department. Share some of your favorite lessons from mentors. You may even give your boss, or the member of HR that you are writing the letter to, a shout out for being so thoughtful and patient with you.
  • Keep in touch. Who knows what the future may hold next? I always encourage great workers to keep in touch with me through a variety of avenues—like email and social media—and let me know more about their next adventure. Encourage great bosses to stay in touch with you, too!
Deborah Sweeney

Deborah Sweeney

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.