What You Can Learn from…Iyanla Vanzant’s Flubbed Exit Strategy from Oprah

A few key tips to help you gracefully bow out, while keeping your career on-track

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 06: Oprah Winfrey attends the 2011 TCA Winter Press Tour - OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network cocktail reception held at The Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa on January 6, 2011 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

Oprah's response to Iyanla's apology--gracious or passive? (Image: Getty Images)

I watched the Oprah Winfrey Show Wednesday, where author, speaker, spiritualist and former weekly Oprah expert Iyanla Vanzant apologized profusely for how she exited from the popular daily talk show. Vanzant was introduced to Oprah’s legion of viewers in the late 1990s during the 12th season, and for a year and a half with roughly 20 appearances, she developed a nationwide reputation as a no-nonsense, quick-witted self-help guru. (Vanzant admitted that the appearances brought with them a level of fame, money and success for which she wasn’t quite prepared.) Eventually, her popularity and sass caught the eye of news veteran Barbara Walters, who wooed Vanzant with promise of her own show — one that lasted only a year.

Since her departure from the Oprah, Vanzant and Winfrey hadn’t spoken in 11 years. The intent of Wednesday’s show was to dispel rumors circulating around how and why Vanzant left the show. And while there have been a variety of personal and emotional comments online on everything from the authenticity of Vanzant’s apology to perspectives on gravity of the breakup, I believe there are specific professional lessons that can be learned from their relationship on how to leave a job or an organization.

Here are a few tips for planning a proper exit strategy:

Weigh your options. If you’re good at what you do, expect that competitors in your industry are going to be interested in hiring you away from your present company. That’s a benefit of working by excellence. And as a professional, you should always know your worth and how you are regarded in the industry. So even if you’re happy in your position, you should continue to entertain offers from recruiters and interview when you’re not looking. It gives you a refreshed outlook on the demands of your industry, expands your network and gives you a sense of what you can negotiate in your current position. But unlike the person who is unemployed, there’s no pressure to make a decision. If an offer does interest you, it’s important to fully examine the terms of the deal beyond title and compensation. Is it an organization you like? Is it one that mirrors your professional values and expectations? Are they interested in supporting your long-term professional goals? If Vanzant had asked herself any of those questions, she may have reevaluated her decision to leave. She also would have been clear on the expectations of her new employer.

Check the ego and check with your mentors. Situations like these are a perfect example of why mentors are so critical to the advancement of your career. They see beyond your ego, the fascination with your talent, or the intoxicating feeling of being courted by a major player in the industry. They will force you to examine the important issues that will impact your success rate. They may not have all the answers and can’t make the decision for you, but they can offer an objective opinion and perspective.

Make a decision not an ultimatum. After you fully weigh the benefits of both positions, you should be able to make a solid decision about which would be more professionally fulfilling and better in line with your career goals. If you’re not clear on your goals then based on your assessment, you should be able to determine which position would offer you a better opportunity to grow and develop your talent. An ultimatum makes for a sexy story line in film, but it is poor business strategy. Yes, in the end you may be able to get more money or a bigger title, but it’s also a gamble where you relinquish control to random circumstances like the mood of the person on that day or the size of their ego. Ultimatums also damage relationships. No one likes to feel they’ve been bullied or pressured to make a decision they were either uncomfortable with or unprepared handle.

What do you think, did Iyanla make a mistake in how she left Oprah’s show? What would you have done differently? Leave your comments below.

  • Deborah Drakes

    HUGE MISTAKE! Patience is a virtue. As a spiritual advisor she should have been more aware of her intuition and be willing to wait until the timing was right. Sometimes we think we hear God leading us but the devil can fool us. She should have known better. Now i ask myself how can she give spiritual advise when she did not take it for herself. She should have entered that meeting with an open mind and be willing to ask questions and get feedback, instead of giving ultimatums.

    • I find it’s easier to see clearly when you’re not in the middle of the storm. In this situation, Iyanla was in the middle of a storm because she was faced with a brand new situation. She had many emotions and was not sure what to do. This is why even her communications with the Oprah show was also unclear.

      Iyanla has helped many people BECAUSE she learns from adversity and triumph, and she is not as directly tied to the situation as the ones in the middle of the storm. One example, I remember distinctly was an audience member mentioned how their boyfriend gave them a beeper. Iyanla immediately recognized a situation and interjected something to the effect of, “That’s a pimp, not a boyfriend.” Since Iyanla Vanzant experienced a partner that was controlling, she could offer advice on that EXACT situation.

  • irma

    Spiritual or not she is human, things started moving too fast for her. She made a mistake. At least she took ownership and didn’t make a bunch of empty excuses. It took nerve to come back on public tv and face the music. Big up to you Iyanla and to you Oprah also. FORGIVENESS is the key………………….

    • StaceyDace

      Unliek some of the contributors here, I was able to “feel” what Iyanla was saying to Oprah but I think what Iyanla didn’t say was that her ego was playing tricks with her. The Devil saw a way into her most fortunate of circumstances and pulled one over on her – and he used her ego to do it. (Oprah’s ego was hurt by Iyanla’s owrds at that time too though she may never admit it either.) That and the several layers of mis-communications that took place. When you get “handlers” and negotiators involved… These two sisters should have just gotten on the phone and spoken to each other from the heart. Just think of how much media power they would have had together by now. Iyanla is still growing like so many of us, including Oprah and will continue to make mistakes as she lives because what is living but learning. Thank yo Iyanla for being woman enough to come out to the world and share your mistake – your BIG mistake with us but I don’t think you can own the entire debacle. Pray for ammends. You women are too strong and powerful and we strong women out here need you as a team. 😉 Stay tuned.

  • Chaun

    I believe that there was poor communication on both sides as each one was thinking that the other person was saying something else. I believe that Iyanla didn’t realize that Oprah was really trying to help her because quite often, we as women tend to distrust each other and assume that when someone is doing something nice for us, it is only for that person’s personal gain. The biggest lesson out of this is communication and really understanding a person’s intent. Now that this is over, I do sincerely hope that Oprah offers Iyanla a show on the OWN channel. I think that would be awesome for them to work together now.

  • Jeannette

    Iyanla made a HUGE MISTAKE.  It was poor communication between the both of them but I feel more so Iyanla than Oprah.  It’s like Iyanla wanted Oprah to read her mind, Oprah is not a mind reader.  If someone I was helping told me that they received an ‘appointed’ message, I would behave just like Oprah and not question one thing.  How is one who is a spiritual being and taps into their spirituality through God gonna question an appointed message from God?  I do feel that our mistakes are learning lessons and perhaps Iyanla needed that.  If it were me, I would have been honest with Oprah in what I was feeling and not expect her to tell me how much she wanted me there because apparently her allowing me to run her show already showed me that she put faith in me.  So I would have been comfortable enough to give her that honesty and not beat around the bush and expect her to read my mind.  Also, I personally wouldn’t have left.  I believe that Mentors like Oprah and many others are so special, why tamper with it.  

  • I watched the show and thought it was good of Oprah to let have back into the circle – even if it’s the final series

  • Great post! The interview with Iyanla and Oprah was truly a teachable moment for all leveraging to make a deal. There are times when you have to truly believe in your power and spiritual guidance and realize that not all that glitter is truly gold. BarWall productions provided instantaneous dollars, however, the longevity was brief. Think big always but never compromise your authentic self … I am certain Iyanla and Oprah will make-up and work together again. http://www.thebrandnewmommy.com

  • The above 6 touch on some point I agree with, but I’m typing this to add my vote to the poll. Yes, she made a mistake in how dealt with the Oprah Show especially since she was not clear with her intention. However, this has proven a valuable lesson for her and now us. I just wish this conversation happened sooner.

  • I am sorry that that happened to Iyanla BUT at least she learned from her mistake and apologized for it. From her conversation on the show, iyanla DID NOT make her self clear with Oprah. At all times, say what you mean and mean what you say, make sure that the other party has a full understanding of what you are trying to say. If not it is up to you to help them understand what you are saying, so that is clear and there are NO hard feelings on either side.

  • Nostimi1

    I think this article about effective exit strategies could have been written without reference to Iyanla on Oprah. It is amazing to me what people will use sometimes to start a conversation about an issue.

    • It’s all about marketing. Many people would have passed over an article that was just about “exit strategies”. B.E. used something that many are discussing any way to make a point. This is as it should be. Any situation can become a teachable moment.

  • I think Iyanla made a huge mistake.. I believe she went to Harpo Studios and gave them an ultimatum, and eleven years later, we see the outcome. I watched the Oprah show and it was painful.

  • ana

    It is always safe to have a little understanding,a lot of communication and good forgivness! All is well.

  • The only reason Iyanla’s exit from Oprah is viewed as a poor decision is because her show did not succeed. Had her connection with Barbara Walters turned her into a megastar, we would be discussing how savvy she was. I think she did the right thing. Although they may have had discussions, there was no guarantee that Oprah was going to give Iyanla her own show. If Iyanla had not left to work with Barbara and Oprah didn’t give her a show, Iyanla would have certainly regretted that decision. Too often we are afraid to jump out into the unknown. There are no guarantees in life, but we must take chances to improve our situation. Sometimes things go the way we planned, sometimes they don’t. AND THAT’S OKAY. We learn from it and move on to the next situation. Instead of groveling on Oprah, Iyanla should have just stated that things didn’t work out and life is still good. Her time as Oprah’s resident self-help guru cannot be taken away from her and she is recognized nationally because of it. She can’t go back, only forward.

    • Jai

      Where is the “Like” button..?

    • Anon

      The bigger issue is not the fact that Iyanla left Oprah, but HOW she did it. It was ok for her to want to explore the option Barbara Walters offered, but by giving Oprah an ultimatum she effectively “burned her bridge” with Oprah. Thus, when the show did fail, she was not able to continue working with Oprah. Had she been more direct and clearly communicated her goals with Oprah (instead of saying all that “annointed” and “appointed” jargon), she might have been able to try the show with Barbara while still maintaining her show with Oprah. As they say, “Never burn bridges”.

      • Even if Iyanly hadn’t given an “ultimatum”, you really think Oprah would have “taken her back”? Somehow I doubt it. She most likely would have been told that she had her shot, but chose to leave. The bridge is isn’t burned, or Oprah would not have had her back on the show. The point is…there is more than one way to success; sometimes it goes through Oprah, sometimes not. 🙂 We all have to find our own path to success. I’m sure the sales of her book have skyrocketed since being back on Oprah’s show.

  • JRJ

    About two weeks prior to the show I said to my husband, I wonder what happened with Oprah and Iyanla Van Zant? And then the show comes on. I think the lines of communication broke down between the two. And I also think she got the big head. Humility is hard when you think you are the hot ticket.

  • Robin Laverne Wilson

    I think the bottom line is to always take the high road and honor yourself and your personal/professional needs and boundaries first, no matter what. I had what I thought amounted to my dream job at the beginning of the year. It didn’t pay much, but I assumed I’d have the opportunity to strut my metaphorical stuff and make innovative social media marketing inroads for a progressive organization. I quickly realized that not only did my employer insist that I approach the position with the exact same strategy that he’d been using that I considered outdated and chaotic, but that he would literally lord the paycheck over my head and outright said that if I didn’t want to do it the way he wanted, that I should quit. After two weeks, and a 24-hour meditation upon the ultimatum that was presented to me, I chose to resign. As angry and insulted as I was at the time, I chose to respond from a place of love for myself, for my boundaries, and for the professional need of said employer to have the time needed to replace me with as little hiccup as possible (despite the disruptions it caused for me). My resignation letter was direct and honest, but positive and supportive, while offering my time and services for another 2-3 weeks. Though my resignation was met with icy silence, I am resolved that I did the absolute right thing. Furthermore, it helped me define an important new boundary in my career — that I have a tremendous amount of experience and savvy to contribute to a team, and I can only work *WITH* someone, and not *FOR*.

    Immediately upon making that distinction for myself, I was given a new freelance opportunity that fulfills all of those expectations, my contributions are fully respected and appreciated, and I am treated as an expert peer and not an assistant. Sometimes, the ultimatum is presented to you, and one must still respond with tact, poise and strategy. It has also nudged me to further define my personal brand and develop it fully, independent of outside opportunities and circumstances.

  • I watched the interview with Oprah and Iyanla and was amazed to see how the conversation developed – tense at times, self deprecating at others. I left the interview with a very ambiguous expression – neither championing Oprah or Iyanla but just fascinated at the events at hand. The issue that really intrigued me was the notion of fame, wealth, and success. I felt like I became an eager listening student to the burden of success and the importance of wealth management, publishing clauses, proper book deals, owning your rights to your content, and avoiding balloon mortgages. I am a visual artist so owning your content perked my ears right up, but the second part that made me very sober was the lost of all she had. I mapped out in January how I will be debt free this year and I’m well underway to make that a reality – but seeing this interview made my pledge not a celebratory announcement for the world to see, instead it makes being debt free is an absolute necessity more relevant than I even realize at the moment.  
    Decisions were made, some good, some bad, but what I carry from this interview are my own core values and principles of Ownership, Priority, and Ownership. I wish both Oprah and Iyanla all the best

  • DJ

    This should have been a private meeting to mend a personal rift between former friends.
    After 11 years who cares!
    Both were ego driven media whores. The spoon can’t l talk trash bbout the fork being an eating utensil. Love the way Oprah asked if she got the big head and Iyanla denied it.GIRL PL-E-A-S-E!!

  • As I read these comments , i find it strange that no one mentioned how she lost her money. A millionaire with a welfare mentallity,Everbody is so selfish about money and their own success, that black people are always thrown to the wolves when it concerns money and we always go broke.we are constantly fed a heavy dose of faith,and illiterate about our monetary system.

  • leepartyof1

    Life brings us lessons which generally come from failures. Iyanla learned a big lesson and she will be better for it. I thought the interview was genuine, and while some may say Iyanla was not quite sincere, it takes a lot of humble pie to admit when we are wrong. Oprah on the other hand was wronged and it takes even more strength to forgive. So I see this as a win win, they both were stretched and stretching is growing.

  • Dr.Joe

    All these crazy drama-fests didn’t exist back in the day when Phil Donahue was on the air.   Anyway, I have learned a lot from both Iyanla and Oprah.

    However, IMO, Oprah is a classic (NPD) Narcissist and Iyanla is (BPD) Bi-Polar.

    Whenever people with mental health issues, such as these two mental illnesses, come together you get fireworks. Very sadly, IMO … Iyanla will always be Bi-Polar and Oprah will always be a Narcissist.

    There are no known cures or effective treatments for either. I’m not judging, I am just commenting … my honest opinion.