The best time to ask how to write an exit letter is before you need one. Wait too late, and you’re likely to send the kind of missive that burns bridges — and burn yourself in the process.

Consider, instead, that you’re planning to leave your job sometime in the next few months. You’ve already started to disengage a little. You’re not working quite such long hours and you’ve stopped making long-term plans for your department. You find yourself thinking about what you’d like to say on your way out.

This is where the fantasy really gets going. You know there are things about the company that need fixing. Now that you don’t have to worry about your job security, maybe it’s time to share them with your boss or other senior leaders. So, you start to put it all in a resignation letter in your head, telling the truth as you see it.

How to write an exit letter that slams the door behind you

My colleague, Val Wright, addresses this scenario in a recent blog post. Her advice: “Don’t wait until you’re on the way out to share your perspective.” Instead, Val tells leaders to get clear about what they want to say, to share their thoughts and their intent, and to encourage speed as if their team had only 30 days to complete their tasks. As Val puts it, there is power in truth-telling.

I agree but I also advise caution. In my experience, writing this fantasy exit letter is often a way to get out anger, frustration, and scorn. The truth that you’re sharing is frequently, “You’re all a bunch of idiots who never recognized how fabulous I am.” Most of us realize these thoughts are immature and destructive, not to mention ineffective, and that’s why we choose not to share them. As I have coached numerous executives, “This is a great fantasy, but a bad plan.”

So what’s the answer? Be brave and tell my truth, even when I’m not about to leave the company? Or be careful and leave with my reputation for maturity and executive presence intact?

The proper way to write a letter of resignation

The key lies in Val’s word “intent.” What am I trying to accomplish in my resignation letter (or speech)? If it is truly about helping to make my company a more productive and engaging environment, then of course it makes sense to share my ideas. But if it’s about airing grievances and being grandiose, then I need to control myself.

If you do choose to write an exit letter to your employer, look over each complaint and ask yourself what the company can do to remedy it. If there is no solution — or if the solution is “fire this person I don’t like,” reconsider including it.

Whether you’re about to leave the company or plan on being there for another decade, you can draft a simple letter of resignation and show it to someone you trust before you share it. You may find great suggestions that will make your job better today. Or you may realize that you’re simply drafting a hit-and-run on your colleagues. Either way, you’ll get it out of your system so you can return to being the kind of leader who improves the workplace, wherever it is.

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