Lessons in Humility from Ousted Groupon CEO Andrew Mason

Not many CEOs include jokes in their farewell letters, nor do they sign off with “love” to the company that just fired them. But ousted Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) CEO Andrew Mason publicly posted his swan song to workers online and did just that, and has the corporate world talking about how to step aside with grace.

“For those who are concerned about me, please don't be - I love Groupon, and I'm terribly proud of what we've created. I'm OK with having failed at this part of the journey,” Mason wrote. He opened the letter joking that he had decided to leave the company to spend more time with his family, then admitting he was actually fired.

Mason copped to his wrongs, encouraged the staff to embrace new leadership and said they deserved better—elements that J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of CAREEREALISM Media, said made the perfect farewell letter.

“He was fully accountable and transparent and the humor he is using offsets the intensity,” O’Donnell says. “He put his team at ease and gave them confidence and assurance.”

Mason founded the online deals giant in 2008, but the company has struggle financially since going public in November 2011.  “From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that's hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable,” Mason wrote in his letter.

“It’s one of the best-written letters I have ever seen,” says certified career coach Janine Moon. “It’s direct and takes wonderful advantage of teaching opportunities. It’s selfless, and that is the indicator of a very high-level leader.”

Coming right out and admitting his wrongs was bold, Moon says. She adds that too often in similar situations the fired party begins pointing fingers.

“It’s the perfect example of being resilient,” she says, and makes Mason appealing to future potential employers. “Nothing is permanent- we need to be flexible.”

O’Donnell says the humor and heart Mason manages to pull off in the note work because they fit his personality. Her No. 1 tip to executives writing their termination letter is to include only what you would say to staffers’ or colleagues’ faces.

When stepping down from an organization and writing a goodbye letter, O’Donnell recommends sticking to a simple formula: write what you’ve experienced, learned and how you’ve grown.

“This is fool-proof and positive,” she says. “Don’t deviate from that or just have one piece. [Mason] was publicly fired and still did it right.”

Moon says every situation is conditional and Mason did have more leverage because he was the CEO. But the characteristics in the letter can definitely be applied for others in similar positions.

“Be direct, honest and use it as a teaching moment,” Moon says. “That is what a good letter includes.”