In a highly anticipated announcement, Tom Brady revealed on Tuesday that he plans to leave the New England Patriots, ending an iconic 20-year career with the only team he has ever known. Brady, 42, leaves the Boston football team with six Super Bowl rings and 41 playoff starts since 2001. Posting on Instagram, Brady expressed gratitude to his teammates, coaches and fans--in what will likely be remembered as a powerful lesson in how to gracefully exit an organization.
His classy handling of his exit--which has been the subject of intense scrutiny for months--provides a playbook for all business owners planning to leave their own organizations, whether you're stepping down as CEO or selling your company.
Show gratitude to your team.
Brady acknowledges the support he received from teammates, coaches, team executives, and staff during his tenure with the Patriots. "I am grateful for all that you have taught me," Brady said, noting that "I couldn't be the man I am today without the relationships you have allowed me to build with you."
Before your last day, share your gratitude with those who have helped you during pivotal moments. Take the time to compose handwritten thank-you notes that offer specific examples of the support you've received. For employees or mentors you're especially fond of, share your gratitude in person or over the phone. When I decided to leave my organization, I made a list of dozens of people who impacted me both professionally and personally, making sure that I properly thanked each one for the help I received during the 10-plus years I worked with them.
Share credit with those around you.
After setting 15 Super Bowl records and winning four Super Bowl MVP awards, Brady towers above almost any quarterback to ever play the game. But you wouldn't know that from his farewell to coaches and teammates. Brady is quick to share credit with others: "Everything we have accomplished brings me great joy, and the lessons I have learned with carry on with me forever," he said. Rather than emphasize his personal achievements, Brady delights in the team's collective success.
For business owners, it may be tempting to tout your record as you head for the door, especially if you've been acquired. Who doesn't want to walk off like a rock star? But the path of progress is paved by those who've traveled alongside you, and we rarely succeed all by ourselves. In your farewell announcement, make sure to share credit with all of the deserving individuals who were part of your journey--employees, funders, partners and customers. Not only does that demonstrate class, but few people will believe your single-handed heroics anyway.
We may never know the behind-the-scenes drama that ultimately formed Brady's decision to part with the Patriots, and that's a good thing. You will likely be remembered more for the way you leave an organization than the time you spent working for it.
Despite rampant second-guessing and whispers from people around the league (and possibly within the Patriots organization), Brady sidelines criticism and keeps any grievances he may have to himself. "Our team has always set a great standard in pro sports and I know it will continue to do just that," he wrote. The tone of his announcement is professional and courteous, showing no ill will or subtle traces of backstabbing. If you're exiting your business, resist the temptation to settle old scores on your way out.
Your last act on the job is a powerful indication of how your next act will begin. If you approach your exit with gratitude and grace, you will be remembered well by others, and may even create new opportunities for yourself.