Don’t burn your ships – You never know what life has in store for you. Also don’t burn your pizza – that is such a waste…
One of the important lessons that I learned from one of my mentors is that one should never burn bridges. You never know what will happen in the future, and you may run into a situation where you need something from the people you left behind. Apparently there’s a reggae song written about this as well by Don Campbell 🙂
You should never burn you bridges behind you,
Cause you never know what life has in store for you.
Always do the good and good will follow,
Cause you never know what happens tomorrow.
What does it mean to burn bridges?
Burning bridges means you are ending a relationship, and will not be able to go back and restart it again. You burn bridges when leaving a job and never come back at it. You burn bridges by bad mouthing a former colleague after he just left the company. You burn bridges by starting a new job and telling your former colleagues what a horrible place it was where you worked. You burn bridges by ending a work-relationship in a bad way by not working on a proper handover. You also burn bridges through a non-happy termination of a contract or working relationship with a business partner. There are many ways to burn bridges, but in essence it comes down to the situation that the relationship ends, and there is no coming back.
Why bother, you’ve ended a chapter and are starting a new one right?
Why bother indeed… You are starting something new, so it’s not too bad to look forward and not back right? Here are a few examples to show it’s important to keep things friendly with the company you are leaving, or the business partner you’re ending the contract with.
- You are staying in the same industry – Every industry or domain actually can be considered as a micro community. Business partners know each other, employees move from company to company, and you keep running into each other. If you are moving from one company to the other it’s very likely that you will meet your former company again, and perhaps you need them in the future for a business opportunity. Maintaining close relationships can help you move things forward. Some personal examples:
- A former colleague that left the company joined a major supplier, and actually became the relationship manager for us. From an uncooperative collaboration in the company, it now became mandatory to work closely together.
- I once left a company to start somewhere else but it did not work out. In the end, I decided to go back to my former company, and stayed there for another 5 years or so. This was only possible because of a positive departure.
- A large network always helps – You never know when you need to tap into your extended network to get something organized. When you need specific expertise, help with something, or you are engaging in a new venture it’s always easiest to tap into your existing contacts than it is to build new relationships. When you are in good standing with your network it is easier to get things done.
- For a new proposition I was working on I needed specific expertise, but did not know where to find it. On LinkedIN I noticed that one of my 1st degree contacts actually maintained relationships with experts in this field. I was able to use my network to actually get in touch with expertise that I was looking for.
- You need a reference – A career gets stitched together through experiences and it’s very likely that you need to supply references when making a career move. Getting a positive reference from former employees helps you to take your next step at the ladder.
When is it OK to burn your bridges?
There are a few cases when actually it’s OK to permanently end the relationships with those you’ve worked with.
- Unethical behavior or practices – When your business partner or employer has engaged in unethical practices it is actually OK to burn bridges. Even if the other party is super influential and there is a possibility you will cross paths again there is nothing more important than being able to look at yourself in the mirror. Unethical behavior can mean stealing trade secrets, lying to or misleading customers, etc.
- Toxic work environment – Sometimes you are ending up in a situation where the work environment is just toxic. Colleagues are not friendly to each other, are badmouthing and it’s just not a friendly place to work. Leaving this toxic environment to go somewhere else is a good idea. Just keep in mind not everyone may be as brave as you to leave, and sometimes those staying behind may need your help to get out as well.
- Abusive leadership – Ending up in a situation where employees are not considered worthy and are thrown around by leadership is a good reason to burn your bridges as well. Everyone deserves to work in a healthy environment, and I personally believe also that employee unfriendly companies will be dead in the long run.
I’ve worked in product management most of my professional life. I enjoy all aspects of the product management role, except for anything related to administration. Coming up with new ideas, building great products, and working towards adoption and satisfied users drives me. Always looking forward!