How to break up with your boss

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I just got word of this article from Details Magazine which offers advice for "How to break up with your boss."


Up until about a year ago, Michael Rogers had lunch or cocktails a couple of times a week with the CEO of the New York public-relations firm where he worked. They’d split a plate of french fries or a carafe of sake and his boss would give him advice about how to be a better manager. Rogers, 30, had started at the firm as an account supervisor a couple of years earlier and had since been promoted to senior vice president.

“He was great about helping and guiding me,” Rogers says of the CEO. “He kind of groomed me to take over.”

Soon, though, Rogers had the itch to abandon his role as protégé and seek new challenges. Unsure of how to break up with the man who’d recently toasted him after they signed a new client together, Rogers went with a white lie. He told his boss he was overworked and stressed out and wanted to head to Los Angeles to regroup. The CEO hugged him and wished him luck.

About a month later, after he announced the opening of his own firm, Rogers got an e-mail from his old boss’s assistant. It was a succinct message reminding him that he’d signed a non-compete clause and the firm would file a lawsuit against him if he poached any of its clients or staff.

“I think he saw that I could succeed without him and that upset him,” Rogers says. “I was now a peer, no longer under his control or guidance.”

This is a really juicy issue for cube-jumpers, since often people worry about how to leave a person or team who has supported and mentored them.  It plays into what I described as "stop running your company like the mafia" in my Open letter to CXO’s rant a couple of years ago.  When you are in "the family," aka the corporation, all is well.  But if you want to leave … cement shoes for you.

Read the whole article here.  Interesting stuff.

Any tips for how to break up well, for those that have done it?

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7 Responses to “How to break up with your boss”

  1. Being up front can only be beneficial to a person’s sense of well being. If they hide their true reason for leaving to protect a financial gain (that may not be protected by a contract), then to me it shows that the person has a low character value.

    For the record, recently I’ve started my own company and gave notice to my employer. I’d hoped to offer a few months notice, grab a few more paychecks and help train a replacement. They walked me right out the front door and said good luck. No harm, no foul. I missed out on a year’s worth of profit sharing, but ultimately my goal is bigger than that check.

  2. Richard says:

    I think this depends on the situation. From the example given it sounds like a small firm. If I was a small business and my protege left to start his own business to compete with me then yes, I’d call foul. I would appreciate some upfront honesty.

    However, I think if you are a cog in corporation then you need to keep your plans to yourself. Any hint of independent thought or not willing to devote 100% of your life to your job will result in stiff penalties. You might not be fired but you may never work on an interesting project again.

  3. Pamela Slim says:

    Kent and Mario, I tend to lean more in your camp of telling the truth. That is always what I have done in my business when making changes and leaving partnerships. It has always worked out well.

    But I will say that in years observing the inside of many corporations, there was retaliation for some people who were up front about their plans either to go to another job or start a business. Some gave long notice but were fired right away, or had incentive compensation withheld or reduced. All was within the law, but shady on the human side.

    I always tell clients who are preparing to make the leap to prepare themselves to be let go the day they tell about their plans to start a business. That way they have nothing to lose.

    The world is too small to lie to or blow off business contacts. Word gets around fast. Plus, there is that pesky karma to deal with.

    Thanks for your thoughts – keep em coming!


  4. I think honesty always goes a long way. When the guy in the story told his boss that he was going to L.A. to “regroup”, and then announced his new company, the boss might have been upset not because he left, but because he didn’t trust him to tell them the truth upfront. Something along the lines of “listen, I really appreciate what you’ve done for me all this time, but I feel I need to start something on my own and I really wanted to tell you.” If after that the boss gets upset, so be it, but if the relationship has been based on mutual respect that kind of resentment shouldn’t exist.

  5. Dean Fuhrman says:

    Leaving a place is a funny kind of thing. Both sides of the equation, employee and employer, have this thing about it being such a personal relationship. And while it is in many respects, it is still a business relationship, to be treated as such and held more at arms length than one might think it would be or like it to be. Generally it all comes back to that one feature, especially when anyone feels threatened. It seems odd, but it seems to be that it really is … just business. So the more professional, straight forward and direct matters are handled, most likely the better all will be. I suspect even if in the story there had been that directness, the fact that there is a signed document that sets the boundaries of the relationship, the end result would have been the same.

  6. Kent says:

    And now for a different perspective.

    Why didn’t he just tell his boss the truth? Maybe the bosses response wasn’t a control issue but rather a reaction to discourtesy.

    I may be a little biased. I had two associates leave my firm about 3 years ago. One was upfront and ethical in giving notice and expressing the desire to try things on his own. The other one was not at all forthcoming and snuck around behind my back when setting up his firm.

    I’ve referred approximately $50,000 in work to the one who acted professionally and ethically when leaving. The other guy lost out on thousands of dollars in business, and as a result has struggled a lot longer than he should have. I run a well established practice and I refer out a lot of business that is too small for my firm but which would be a windfall to a young practitioner just starting out.

    It all goes to the former associate who showed business ethics and common courtesy. Not only did the other associate ruin his chances of referrals from me, but also from numerous other colleagues who now find him less than trustworthy.

  7. Andy Roberts says:

    It’s not just the paternalistic ones that are difficult to break away from. The thing is that a boss will think nothing of breaking the employment relationship when it suits them to do so, so we should have no qualms about doing the same.

    Just walk out, never look back. I’m so glad I did it.