How to Quit and Stay Committed

What happens when you are committed to a mission, but decide to leave your job? How can you still maintain a level of integrity and commitment as you walk away? Leaving a job well can be a valuable strength to have as a professional, although it’s not easy; the act of leaving and the value of commitment don’t seem to fit naturally together. I’ve seen it done, though, and learned firsthand what it takes to leave well and stay committed.

Although my role has changed over time, I’ve worked in public education for most of my career. Twenty one years ago in Houston, I co-founded KIPP, a network of 162 public charter schools across the country. The reason we’ve been around for so long is simple: we are committed to our mission of helping students from underserved families develop the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in college and in life.

Over the years, however, I have experienced plenty of colleagues leaving their positions. Whenever someone surprises me with immediate plans to quit, I always offer to have a conversation with them to ensure that they are making the right decision.

Being a committed person does not have to mean that you are tied to the same job or organization for the rest of your life. For some, quitting a job may be just the beginning of a personal journey to discover their true passion or calling in life. There is a way to remain a committed person and leave your current job. How, when, and to whom you communicate your plans to quit will lead to one of two situations — leaving well and on good terms with your former employer, or leaving in a horrible mess and burning a bridge. Here’s how to leave well:

Tell the right person. When you are leaving a job, the top priority person to tell is not your colleagues, but your direct supervisor. This is especially important when you work in a field like education and are accountable to young people. The prospect of telling your boss you are leaving can be intimidating, but you could have a much more difficult conversation with a potential employer in the future if they call your past supervisor for a reference. More often than not, though, a boss will respect the straight-talk and the amount of respect earned by you will only rise.

How you communicate is key. If you are able to have a difficult conversation that is both honest and respectful, you’ve gained trust. You’ve also endeared yourself to your superiors by demonstrating good character traits and values. In turn, this will put you in a stronger position as you look to gain the trust of a future employer. When I was principal of a KIPP middle school, one of my best teachers decided to leave after one year, and it was difficult to see her go. But because she was able to communicate her decision in a way that made sense and was respectful, it strengthened my impression of her. Six years later, she applied for a fellowship to start a new KIPP school in another city. I was a part of the selection committee. I chose her both because of her ability as an educator and how she handled her departure.

Timing is everything. Giving two weeks’ notice is setting the bar low, considering how long it takes most employers to hire someone new. The earlier you tell your employer you are leaving, the better chance they have to find a suitable replacement. If you give several months’ notice, you may even become a part of the hiring process. Some years ago, one of our school principals had a family commitment that led her to move out of state. She gave us more than an entire year to plan her replacement, and in doing so was able to play a hand at picking her successor, leaving a legacy of trust and stewardship behind.

It is never easy to leave a job, especially when you are committed to the mission. If done well, you can leave an organization in a way that demonstrates respect — for your colleagues, your superiors, and/or to your mission. You may also leave a lasting impression to carry you through to your next opportunity. As KIPPsters like to say, leave a place better than you found it.

Read more from this LinkedIn series as professionals share all the right — and wrong — ways to leave a job. Follow the stories here.

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