Elizabeth Warren Gave Us a Master Class in Saying Goodbye to Your Team

What we can learn from powerful remarks she shared with her campaign staff after dropping out of the presidential race

Elizabeth Warren addresses the media after dropping out of the Democratic presidential race in Cambridge, MA on March 5, 2020
Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

WWhen Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the presidential race, she left behind a long campaign and a 1,500-word farewell that folks in my circle have screenshotted, shared, and at moments throughout the day, wept over, whether or not she was their #1 candidate.

It was a good speech.

Delivering a formal farewell to your team, whether you’re a POTUS hopeful or someone who’s simply moving onto another opportunity can be daunting. How can you adequately capture months or years of professional collaboration in a single message? You can’t. Don’t go for brevity. Your goodbye speech — or more likely, goodbye email — crystallizes your time there, sure, but, more importantly, it looks to the future. It says to the audience: A new relationship begins now and here’s what’s important to me about this relationship. That’s important stuff. Give yourself room.

Here are seven lessons we can learn from Warren’s exit speech on how to say goodbye to colleagues.

If you’re sad, be sad

There’s something to be said about the basic act of acknowledging the suck. Change is complex. You may feel a lot of different feelings about moving on, and one of them might be sadness. If it is, put it out there. Early in her goodbye, Warren took a moment to say, “I know that when we set out, this was not what you ever wanted to hear. It is not the call I ever wanted to make.” This simple statement validated the sentiment of the moment — that sure, there will be time for hope again, but for right now, this blows.

Focus on the ‘we’

Much of Warren’s goodbye is a highlight reel of the team’s greatest achievements. In every success story she cites, she takes the “I” out of the picture and emphasizes the “we.” “We have shown that a woman can stand up, hold her ground, and stay true to herself… We have shown that we can build plans in collaboration with the people who are most affected… We fundamentally changed the substance of this race. A farewell is not the place to rattle off your resume — instead, frame your accomplishments as a team effort.

Be funny — or at least not totally earnest

Warren’s goodbye wasn’t all business — she made sure to include her signature wit and charm. She urged her staff to take this opportunity to get some rest and be with their families and “maybe… get that haircut you’ve been putting off. (Not a joke exactly, but a moment of levity.) You had some fun working together. Have some fun with your goodbye.

Tell a story

As Warren closed, she told a story about a conversation she had with a mom she met on Super Tuesday. It’s personal and moving and gets to the heart of her campaign. A story — whether it’s poignant or funny or even embarrassing — can be a superpower. It shows the human behind the work.

Say ‘thank you’ in a specific way

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you, for everything you have poured into this campaign,” Warren wrote. She bookended a simple note of thanks with the depth of her feelings and the magnitude of her campaign staff’s work.

Have a TL;DR

Any memorable speech, no matter the length, has a single message that people can remember — a thesis or TL;DR. (Note: Don’t actually call it a “TL; DR” in your goodbye.) Warren spelled hers out clearly: “So if you leave with only one thing, it must be this: Choose to fight only righteous fights because then when things get tough — and they will — you will know that there is only [one] option ahead of you. Nevertheless, you must persist.” While you might not have your own meme-worthy slogan, think of an encouraging note that you can leave your colleagues with. A positive message for the future.

Go long

Warren’s speech was more than 1,600 words long (twice as long as this story). Don’t be afraid to say what you have to say. When your goodbye is more about your audience than you, they won’t want it to end.

Senior platform editor at Forge @Medium. Author of Horizontal Parenting: How to Entertain Your Kid While Lying Down, coming this August.

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