How to make a graceful (and memorable) exit

28 Jan

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership calls Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show farewell speech “a class act.” Like Dan, I don’t usually stay up late enough for the Tonight Show, nor have I watched Conan O’Brien in any of his other incarnations. So I’m especially glad he called Conan’s video farewell to our attention.

This is leadership at its darkest hour, when plans and dreams come to an abrupt halt and the road ahead is unclear. It’s about the others who depend on him, not his grief.  It’s about looking forward to other possibilities, not looking back at what was lost. He rallies against cynicism, and delivers a message of hope and possibility at a time when he, personally, might have every reason to despair and disparage.

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(As a marketer, I can’t help think that 7-Eleven would be wise to take him up on the parking lots!)

Conan’s farewell reminded me of another graceful exit last week, this one from the reality show Project Runway. Usually, when contestants get booted from talent-based reality shows, the exit-interview spiel goes something along one of these lines: 1) “I’m disappointed in myself. I know I could have done better/worked harder.” 2) “I’m blazingly talented, and the judges just didn’t see it.” 3) “I know I’ll be successful some day, no matter what.”

The de rigueur exit comment is all about me, me, me. Which made Pamela Ptak’s exit a refreshing eye-opener. Pamela didn’t talk about her disappointment at losing from a career perspective – at least not in the edited version that aired on the show. The portion that aired is about 1:03 in:

Pamela was just so human, so appreciative of her fellow competitors, that it resonated far more strongly. She talks about heart, about the real emotional connections that people form when they work together. Caring for others, no matter how cutthroat the competition, is an important leadership component.

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