Blog 02 March 2023

How (Not) to Resign

Impact Insights – Four Leaders, Four Lessons in Communications

Last words matter. The way a leader leaves, shapes perceptions of what they did – and it sets the tone for the transition to come. This edition: the art of saying goodbye.


Engineering a fairy-tale ending

The CEO, the studio and the quest for a legacy

  • You’d expect that the leader who ran the world’s most successful storytelling empire would have an eye on his personal narrative.
  • When ex-CEO Bob Iger left the business in 2021, he appeared in a self-deprecatory mood, explaining he’d become “overconfident” and less tolerant of others’ ideas.
  • But take a look at his exclusive farewell TV interview – on a vast Star Wars movie set with the Millennium Falcon over his shoulder. Ignore the words and look at the pictures.
  • The leader whose acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm rejuvenated the studio is sending a clear message about his legacy.
  • The point must have landed well, as (shock screenplay twist!) Disney asked him back two years later.

A takeaway for leaders: A well-choreographed image will land the message alone.

How much sharing is oversharing?

The bosses mocked for baring their souls

  • When CEO Braden Wallake posted a photo of himself on LinkedIn last summer, with tears running down his face, apparently after laying off two employees, the internet reaction was not kind. His was the face of CEO overshare.
  • Less than a year later, Verena Bahlsen, heiress to the German biscuit empire, used a LinkedIn post to describe panic attacks, crying in meetings, fear, overwhelm and insecurity.
  • The former Chief Mission Officer’s post was deemed another misfire in the trend for confessional resignations, and her honesty met mostly with hostility online.
  • The reaction speaks to an uncomfortable truth. While the accepted wisdom is that audiences want leaders to show vulnerability, the reality is that audiences accept vulnerability best from leaders with a reputation for being invulnerable: Nicola Sturgeon’s words went down better. Elon Musk’s talk of “lows” sent his cultish reputation higher.

A takeaway for leaders: Emote with caution. Displays of vulnerability at the exit door should be carefully calibrated.

It’s all over

Did Ferguson warm up for his final whistle?

  • “I’ve got no script in mind. I’m just going to ramble on”, said Sir Alex Ferguson from Old Trafford’s centre circle, ten years ago. 
  • Do you believe him? Neither do we.
  • At the end of his extraordinary 26-year run at Manchester United, Ferguson spoke with structure and clarity. He praised the fans, namechecked players, and sought to secure a smooth landing for his successor.
  • And of course, the man who invented “squeaky bum time” had a quotable line ready to be dropped onto newspaper back pages: He’d now “enjoy watching them, rather than suffering with them”.  

A takeaway for leaders: Departure is a moment the legacy story is at its most malleable; a memorable prepared line can help you control it.

And finally…it’s goodbye from news anchors

“You. Yes, you – sitting there! Thank you!”

  • Veteran news presenters saying farewell on air is a resignation subgenre of its own, with many international variants.
  • There’s the long and dramatic US-style, like Christi Paul’s departure from CNN. There’s the short and bad-tempered British approach, typified by Jeremy Paxman.
  • Our favourite came from Jon Snow, whose final minutes presenting the UK’s Channel 4 News in 2021 saw him crash through the fourth wall with tears in his eyes, pointing at the viewer and thanking them for their curiosity.
  • He had a sting in his tail too. As talks of privatisation swirled around the publicly owned channel, Snow thanked “far-sighted governments” for protecting the programme for so many years.

A takeaway for leaders: You only get the chance to say it once, so speak from the heart.


If you’re interested in enhancing the impact you make, get in touch with the Impact Communication team. We’re helping leaders every day to make stronger connections with the media, their employees, their peers and investors. Email: [email protected]