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How to resign in style...

Zelda Zinger

There comes a day when, either through necessity or desire, you might have to resign. Most have probably all felt the wry pathos in the lyrics of the song by Johnny Paycheck: “Take this job and shove it.”

And yes, there might come a day when you can gratifyingly say “no thanks” - to your boss or your board - in the full knowledge that you can walk out the door, passing from the weakness of fluorescent strip lighting overhead into the full blast of warm daylight, content that your next steps lead to something better and where you can still keep up your mortgage payments.

Or you have had no option. There’s been a dramatic stand-off. Your former allies have circled their wagons and you’re not inside. There’s been a huge mistake and someone has to hang for it - and it’s you. Or a new guy or gal has been brought in and suddenly they are doing your job.

In the meantime your sleep has been troubled. Your stomach has found new depths to which to sink. You’ve tried to do all those things the positivity gurus have told you to do - breathe deeply, remind yourself in the mirror how good you are every morning, banish the anxiety.

And yet it still sucks. No one wants you. Your time has come.

So what do you do? The common sense view is to resist the temptation to take them all down with you. Burning bridges may be gratifying. But for the most part we all live in a village where spans across barriers are handy to keep.

And while you may be able to avoid tarnishing your CV on departure, the word on the street from your enemy will go further than what’s on paper unless you play your cards right.

Blackmail might help. Enlisting the sympathy of those who are merely standing around while someone else wields the dagger might be less dramatic.

The message that is sent out when you cut ties is important. For most of us this requires not drinking too much before we make our leaving speech in order so we don’t indulge in saying what we really feel.

For others there will be announcements on the stock exchange.  There is a form for these - phrased in careful terms in order not to scare the investors or attract the attention of journalists. It usually provides a variation on the same themes; that although the director is leaving with “immediate effect” the chairman thanks them, if not particularly effusively, for their efforts. Perhaps they might even indicate what the unfortunate is doing next. “Seeking a portfolio career,” perhaps, or worse: “Spending more time with their family.”

Platitudes such as these are specifically designed to hide the grim reality. The average person probably has (or, in light of recent circumstances, had) a vague idea that corporations - banks, insurance firms, national retailers - are run sensibly by reasonable people who work by established rules, efficient as train tracks.

But they would be wrong. The truth more often is you only make it into the boardroom by surviving a long, Darwinian climb up a dark greasy tunnel filled with ethical dilemmas, egos and sharp implements. And once you get there, it’s not much more comfortable although the cars are usually better.

But if you’ve been turfed out, surely there is a way to embrace honesty and transparency while maintaining your dignity. Which is why the resignation of Andrew Mason, the former chief executive of internet darling Groupon at the start of the month was so refreshing.

In case you hadn’t heard, the letter which went first to 11,000 employees and then became page leads in most newspapers in the US and the UK, started like this:

“After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention.”

It’s not often a resignation letter goes global, but it was a brilliant example of the genre - informal, with just enough honesty and quirkiness to make it interesting. It seemed a breath of fresh air.

Yet the missive was also very calculated. Although it acknowledged he was pushed rather than having jumped, it was written in the jokey tone which characterised his way of running the company he founded. He communicated the essential details while reinforcing his own unique brand of leadership.

If there was bitterness at the possibility his mentor, backer and company chairman, Eric Lefkofsky, had stabbed him in the back, it was not even hinted at.

It is probably easy to be breezy when your stake in the company you are leaving is still worth a cool $200 million. Even if you had seen it shrink in value by more than two thirds in the last 12 months.

But if there is anything Mason’s letter demonstrates it is that you can stay classy. And it might just leave you in a position so that one day you can return the favour to the people that failed to stand by you.