It’s disruptive when anyone resigns from his or her post, but especially so when the head honcho is involved—after all, he or she was holding the group together, right?
In my 14 years of having bosses, I’ve seen a fair number move on to greener pastures, and I’ve picked up a few dos and don’ts to help get me through (and even see the opportunity for greener pastures of my own).
1. Don’t Panic
I’ll never forget the first time one of my bosses resigned to start his own business. (Back then, we called it “retiring” whenever someone got the entrepreneurial bug.) While I’d think nothing of it now—I’ve seen plenty of people do the same over the years—it was pretty upsetting at the time.
I immediately assumed something was wrong with the company and that his departure was a sign of trouble. Was my job at risk? Were our benefits being cut? Was the company’s reputation taking a turn for the worse?
While it’s natural—and smart—to consider all these things whenever a major player hangs up his or her cleats, don’t let it get the best of you. Remember, bosses are people, too, and it’s totally normal that they’ll find other opportunities to pursue in their careers. And panicking about what you don’t know—or don’t have control over—isn’t going to help you move forward.
2. Do Investigate—Discreetly
That said, sometimes, there is trouble in paradise when a senior person bolts. For example, when one of the founding partners of my firm suddenly “retired” after spending the past decade growing the firm, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something going on besides his sudden interest in sailing around the world.
So, doing a bit of covert research can help keep you informed and prepared. Whenever possible, go straight to the source for information (as, in, try to get the story from your boss, not from the rumor mill). If that’s not possible—or plausible if you have limited access to your manager—you’ll need to do a little investigating.
Ask around the office, but try to limit your questions to more senior-level individuals you respect. Express your regret to see your boss go, as well as your best wishes on his or her next endeavor. Then, casually ask if anyone knows where your boss is headed. The answer could tell you a lot about not only where he or she will end up, but how those in the know may feel about it.
While there’s no guarantee you can depend on this second-hand information as fact, getting a sense for your colleagues’ take on your bosses departure may give you a hint if there’s trouble ahead (and you should be looking, too) or if you can start planning a farewell happy hour in good conscience.
3. Don’t Take it Personally
Several years ago, when one of my favorite bosses resigned, I took it really personally. We’d built up a great working relationship over the years, and she’d become a valuable mentor for me. When I discovered she was leaving, I was crushed. I even selfishly wondered, “How could she do this to me?”
While it’s totally fair to feel bummed—even deserted—when your boss moves on, remember that any decision to leave a job is complicated, personal, and rarely taken lightly. While your manager probably considered how the team might be impacted, at the end of the day, he or she had to do what was best.
Share your support and excitement for your boss’ new endeavors and suggest you both keep in touch. Creating a positive last impression will show your appreciation for your boss’ leadership and start the foundation for a continued relationship down the road—wherever you both end up.
4. Do Step Up Your Game
Although losing a boss can be a challenge—both professionally and emotionally—there is a silver lining. After all, whenever a team changes its roster, there’s an opportunity for you to step up your game.
If possible, take your future-former-boss out for coffee and pick his or her brain about what the team needs from its next leader. Solicit feedback about your own performance, and see where you may be able to help fill those needs. (In my experience, folks who are on their way out are much more open to honest discussions about their work—and yours—when they know they don’t have to run into you in the elevator every day for the next year.)
Also, don’t be afraid to share your ideas and offer suggestions on how you’d like to contribute to the company in the future—your boss may be able to transition some of his or her responsibilities to you or suggest to others that you’re up for taking on more.
If your boss is jumping ship, just remember to keep calm and carry on, get the facts from trusted sources, keep from taking it personally, and always use the situation as an opportunity to step up your own game. With a calm head, respect, and killer work ethic, you’ll show the higher-ups what you’re made of and prove you can be depended on to help ease the transition to a new boss.
And who knows? That new boss could be you!