The transition I find myself in, having given notice to one community and gearing up to move into a new community, has been harder than I’ve ever experienced.  It’s not really the physical move that is challenging, but instead it is the desire to leave well and understanding what that means.  There are a few books I’ve found about leaving, but they are usually around coping with the loss of a relationship, or leaving a relationship, or stopping a habit.

In some way I guess those all apply, but I didn’t find a book talking about leaving a job, one that you love, and doing it well. Oregon makes it easy with the no-fault no-notice type of state we are.  But that’s not leaving well to me, that’s just leaving.  Instead I think leaving well is similar to the time it takes to cure concrete which can look dry very quickly but if pressured will potentially give way, or be scarred, by the impending force.

I think leaving well requires time for everyone to transition and feel part of the process.

I think leaving well requires time for everyone to transition and feel part of the process.  It takes time for concrete to truly cure and it takes time for people to become acclimated with pending change.  When I gave 90 days notice I was told that was a bit excessive by a couple people.  “Pull the bandaid off quickly and let people get over it.”  Why didn’t I do that?  Because we’ve poured a lot of concrete over the last 3 years and I don’t want to see it get marred before its set.

I’ve been in the situation where a boss or leader abruptly left.  Either the day before they were there and then gone, or when they gave notice and were still gone in 10 short days (2 weeks is standard and acceptable right?).  Usually there is a grave feeling of, “Whoa this is going to suck…how does this affect me?  How will I be okay through this?  What will this mean to my job?”  Instead when faced with the decision to leave I chose to follow Mike McLaran’s advice: “Always leave a place better than you found it.”  Okay, I know that isn’t solely Mike’s saying, but it is applicable and sticks in my head because he always said it to me.

Like I said, we’ve done a lot of work over the last three years.  If I just up and left quickly I fear the implication that would have on the Chamber (staff and members), the questions that would raise in the community,  and my own personal reputation.  I’ve told many business people and leaders in McMinnville that the Chamber is a strong entity and I meant every word.  I’ve told the members that the Chamber is not the staff or board, but the members…all 465 of them.  And I believe, in the eyes of the general community, the chamber has regained a place of relevance and leadership for the future of this area.

As I go through this process I realize I’m learning another lesson that was seeded by Mike.  On the fateful morning when he passed away suddenly I, along with many others, thought “Oh no, what are we going to do!  Mike can’t be gone…too soon…we weren’t ready…we didn’t see this coming.”  But the reality is that Mike had been leaving well for quite awhile.  He had been meeting and mentoring many, he had been replacing the work he was doing with others who were then supported by him.  The difference in his last departure was the absoluteness of it all…we can’t call, we can’t text, we can’t meet for coffee to be encouraged.

One image of leadership, in my mind, is not one person in front of the group pulling them forward; leadership is from the front-middle encouraging, coaching, calling out hazards ahead, running with the group and if they start to lag it is slowing down and encouraging them to go farther.  So when I imagine leaving well in my mind it is in a group of people moving down the beach.

My mental image of organizational leadership (just the first part on the beach). From Chariots of Fire, 1981 (

People have told me that I have big shoes to fill, but when I look back I see not one set of foot prints in the sand but a lot of feet that we’ve gathered to all go in the same direction under the same mission and vision.  This group, the Chamber, will not deviate as I leave because another leader(s) will rise up in the group and continue the work of moving them forward and encouraging them on.

Speaking of multiplying leadership, you should read this book!
Speaking of multiplying leadership, you should read this book!

Leaving well just means that I’m moving from front-middle to the rear and soon I will veer my course from the group to join another group.  And what I learned from Mike was that when a leader leaves well they are not merely replaced by one leader, but they multiply and many leaders are spurred on to step up to set the pace and direction.  His passion and training did not go unheeded and instead created a wave of new leaders who, at his departure, are spreading out throughout communities all over to lead like Mike exemplified. A true leader trains and works for the day they are to be replaced and their replacement should never be one person, but a group of people who are all inspired to be leaders.  These leaders will grow the group running down the beach, each encouraging one another and spreading the passion and vision in action.

My greatest desire is that the McMinnville Chamber does not lose speed or course or vision, but instead new leaders in the organization will step up and continue the good work that was started.  The question is who will it be?  I have some ideas, but I’m not saying any names.



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One reply on “On Leaving Well”

  1. Nathan, we will miss you and your entire family. You absorbed the spirit and energy of our community and fed it back to us through your leadership.
    Best to you in your new adventure. Find a Rotary club in Vancouver, they are the best welcoming committee in a new home.

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