When leading from home becomes leaving from home
On Friday, I was one of the 17,000 people that left their jobs at Delta Air Lines. I could write reams about what I learned about leadership working at Delta.... actually I WILL write reams about it in future; it is a rare thing to consider it a privilege to have worked for a company, and with Delta that is very much the case. But when a pandemic takes you from a record year of growth to practically zero revenue almost literally overnight, something has to give, and this week 16,999 other people and I chose to leave to start new a new chapter.
Under normal circumstances (remember them?) that would have been one hell of a leaving party. But in the lockdown era, how do you commemorate people and wish them well when you can't physically be together? Without the leaving drinks that turns into leaving karaoke (maybe that's just in my experience), the final lap of goodbyes around the office with a box full of junk you'll never unpack, the misty-eyed drive from the parking lot and the argument with the IT guy over where the mouse you were issued five years ago is, how do you provide the celebration (and closure) that the situation deserves?
I hosted a virtual awards ceremony for my team and its alumni because if you can't have a big extended family gathering on your last day, when can you? Like all the best ideas, it is not new and is recycled from other people way more creative than I am. But also like all the best ideas that people "steal with pride", you can throw your own glitter on it and make it your own. The dress code was "awards ceremony chic", and maybe because it was the boss's last day, or maybe because the novelty of the sweat pant has truly worn off and we're all missing REAL CLOTHES, everyone participated with glee. I don't know if the full tuxedo (or, for sure at least the top half of a tuxedo), the engagement sari or the Hawaiian shirt-jorts combo was my favourite. Actually it doesn't matter because they were all sheer brilliance and I am still cursing the fact that I didn't take a screen shot of our Webex screen.
Cocktails and apps were served... from people's own kitchens. At least it made catering for dietary requirements a lot easier, I guess.
We had a virtual red carpet and "step and repeat", both requiring a little imagination, but that's OK, when you've put earrings on for the first time since February why not make even more effort?
We couldn't afford Ricky Gervais or Ellen so I was the host, and every person got to select their own walk up track, even though there wasn't a lot of walking going on during this very much sit-down ceremony.
Somehow it worked out that everyone won an award! Imagine! Every award came with a story about the person, both their on-the-job victories and their own loves and hates that we had learned over the last few weeks over our daily calls. And every person got to give their own acceptance speech that they had time to write in advance. Or wing on the spot. You know, you do you.
With so many people leaving, this is the end of an era at Delta so there were happy tears, sad tears, reminiscing, laughing, but all in a very personal way. None of us wanted it to end and we overran by 30 minutes. If this were the Oscars we would have been in major trouble with the networks.
I had been churning over in my mind for weeks how it was going to feel when I finally closed my Delta laptop and started my new life. I had also been dreading the feeling of leaving the team I'd held together behind in this weird, uncertain, no sense of time, era. Nobody wants to fizzle out and leave with a whimper.We'll leave the real party for the time after face masks, but for now this was the perfect way to say goodbye and, as my Delta family call it, #keepclimbing.