[Things to Avoid at Work] How To Say Goodbye

The adage “You have only one chance to make a first impression”  has a sibling: “You have only one chance to make a decent good-bye.”

I thought of both when I saw Sun Microsystem CEO Jonathan Schwartz’ farewell note as he terminated his employment with the completion of Sun’s acquisition by Oracle [Disclosure: Jonathan and I are nodding acquaintances in our Dolores Park neighborhood of San Francisco]. There are some land mines as noted here to changing / leaving jobs: saying an effective goodbye is one of them.

Rather than the more common all-hands farewell, or note to the troops (something done by Sun Chairman and co-founder Scott McNealy), Jonathan used Twitter and  tweeted his farewell:

Financial crisis

Stalled too many customers

CEO no more.”

Goodbyes are best said sincerely, graciously and simply. Lingering goodbyes, pay-you-back-goodbyes, and goodbyes that can viewed as flakey are usually not the best way with which to end a role. I think Jonathan, who I perceive to be bright and well intentioned, bordered on the latter (e.g. flakey) by tweeting his farewell. Twitter’s great – but like firing people by e-mail, saying goodbye with connection and authenticity is a high touch – not a haiku tweet – sort of thing.

In Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, actor Dustin Hoffman (playing Mr. Magorium) recounts Shakespeare’s language to describe the death of King Lear in Act V of the play. King Lear’s exit by William Shakespeare? “He dies.”

The context of the play, with its greatness of language and drama, is the perfect shell to serve up a simple and elegant exit.

People leaving jobs and firms should take note: great work in a role, and great contributions to a firm should be ended as simply, authentically, and modestly as well.