Stepping Down Gracefully
Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.
During the month of July, we publish “best of” content. The following article was first published on June 2, 2010.
Dear Crucial Skills,
I thought I was ready to become a supervisor in my company so I applied and was given the job. However, after two and a half years in my job, I am discovering that I am either not ready or I feel so unsupported by my supervisor that I am now unwilling to continue in this position. Either way, I want to step down from my position gracefully and return to my old position while maintaining a strong relationship with my supervisor. Do you have any advice?
Dear Stepping Down,
The corporate ladder and the designated career paths in most companies are usually well known and everyone understands that success is defined as a vertical climb. Having risen to the rank of supervisor, you have decided to step down from your position. I congratulate you for having the intelligence and good sense to recognize what you really want and the courage to pursue it. Good for you.
Now that you have decided to take that step, you ask how you can do it gracefully. You are wise to think this step through before acting. Because you are moving against the grain, management could easily misunderstand your reasons for stepping down. They might assume you lack loyalty to the company or that you are not grateful for the trust they have shown in you by promoting you. They could question your commitment to doing a good job. Most likely none of these stories are based on your performance; rather they are formed by the surprise of you going against expectations.
The conversation you have with your immediate supervisor and any other relevant managers is a crucial one. There’s a skill I recommend you use that clarifies your motives and thinking while reducing defensiveness in others. It’s simply called Share your Good Intentions.
To use this skill, state your decision to step down, your reasons, and your intentions going forward. You might say to your immediate boss, “I’ve decided not to continue in my position as a supervisor. I’ve worked very hard over the last two and a half years to do a good job, and I realize that I like being a producer, not a supervisor. I am committed to the success of the company and our team, and I want to add value. Going forward I believe I would do that best as a producer.”
This skill makes it clear that even though you don’t want to continue as a supervisor you have good will toward the company and the team and you will work to contribute in your new position. This helps to dispel any false stories or assumptions managers might otherwise be tempted to conclude.
Next, depending on your boss’s questions, you may need to explain your reasons in greater detail and help to plan the transition. Be sure to not leave your boss or your company in the lurch. Be flexible and willing to help in the change.
When you are open and clear about your decision and express your good intentions, others are less likely to misunderstand and your transition is likely to be both efficient and graceful.
All the best,