“We should place confidence in our employee. Confidence is the foundation of friendship.
If we give it, we will receive it. Any person in a managerial position, from supervisor to president, who feels that his employee is basically not as good as he is and who suspects his employee is always trying to put something over on him, lacks the necessary qualities for human leadership – to say nothing of human friendship.”
“The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.”
Leading and managing people is possibly one of the most rewarding things you can do in a business career.
Firing people is possibly one of the most unrewarding things you can do in a business career.
Unfortunately these two things are inextricably linked.
I could argue that once you assume responsibility for firing someone you learn more about yourself, and I imagine others learn about you, than almost any other responsibility you assume as a leader.
No one likes firing people. Well. no one who is any good at business leadership. I don’t care if you absolutely hate the person you are firing, if the person has actually committed a fireable offense and you are in the right to fire them, or even if you fire someone for good reason … suffice it to say … it never feels good to fire someone.
And because of that … a good business leader never delegates the tough termination. And they never send someone to terminate a direct report.
Generally speaking … you fire anyone who is a direct report, or you were directly responsive for hiring, face to face.
This may not be, logistically, the easiest thing to do but it is part of the burden of responsibility. It is the mantle you wear and it is what you are obligated to offer the person being terminated – dignity & respect.
Anything less than that and you are shirking your responsibility. Anything less than that is … well … chicken shit. And you are a chickenshit business leader if you do not do these things.
What I just shared is a hard lesson but one business people learn in young management.
I will never forget the first person I ever fired. Paul.
An absolute great guy in absolutely the wrong position and possibly career. But that doesn’t mean it was easy to terminate him. While I was 99% sure it was the right thing to do <and my boss and her bosses agreed> there was an extraordinarily loud 1% in my head that kept me awake that night.
Inevitably he chose a different career and went on to become an SVP of sales.
And he was kind enough to drop me a couple of notes to tell me it all worked out for the best.
But I will never forget firing him. I can honestly say I never forget anyone I have fired <and that is a semi-long list after years of management>.
I would like to think my leadership career is measured more by the people I did not fire.
Not firing, in a larger organization, can be harder than you think.
I think I spent more time explaining to the most senior people why I would not fire some of the people I managed than I did ever discussing almost anything else about employees with them.
Well. That is … it felt that way.
The crap that floats upwards into senior leadership about individual employees is amazing. The littlest mistakes and quirks seem to take on exponential size when it arrives at the most senior people — and they do not hesitate to share their disproportional views.
Regardless. All of those views cut into the ‘trust belief’ … are they respected within the organization, do they have the trust of the organization and can they be trusted with their responsibility.
And that is when you earn your stripes as a manager. You do not cave in to the ‘easy thing to do’ but rather stand up for your people and let the chips fall as they may. Oh. And you learn it is totally worth it to not take the easy way out.
Let me be clear.
No one is perfect. I was not a perfect employee nor was a perfect manager. And, yet, when judging employees there sometimes is the ‘perfect measure’ of which becomes the absurd standard.
We should judge senior people more critically but we should judge them fairly.
I didn’t fire a lot of people. And I can think of at least 4 who made me incredibly proud that I didn’t … despite some pressure from others to do so.
All 4 of these have sent me notes at different points, not thanking me for not firing them but rather for simply giving them a chance, believing in them and seeing something in them that they knew <because all employees know when they are under ‘the human resources microscope’> many others didn’t.
All 4 of them have been professionally successful and, more importantly, are solid good human beings. Neither of those are because I didn’t fire them but rather vindicate the non-firing decision.
All that said.
Firing someone, despite the pain of actually doing it, is often the easy way out and is certainly a way to avoid looking at your own flaws.
Flaws? I sometimes believe one of the hardest things you can learn in your career is that your best is not particularly special.
Learning the fact that your talent, in reality, is matched by a shitload of people.
Learning that your best is relatively easily matched by a shitload of people.
It is an unfortunate truth that:
- Talent is talent.
- Smarts are smarts.
- And expertise is almost always relative.
At any given point in Life and your career you can look around you and if you are self aware you will note you are rarely the most talented, rarely the smartest one in the room and rarely the only expert.
Even on your best day you may not actually be the best.
I imagine that is a tough thing to get your head wrapped around.
But I also imagine if you do wrap your head around it evaluating employees and how you fire them is affected.
I always watch how someone terminates an employee.
You can learn a lot about people in that situation … and you can learn a shitload about how someone feels about dignity, respect and responsibility in how they terminate an employee.
Postscript 1: under the general heading of “chickenshit” from a business perspective:
There are hundreds of different viable reasons to fire someone and if you have the responsibility to hire & fire and it is ‘at will’ you can do what you want. But HOW Trump fired Comey was chickenshit.
It wasn’t face to face with a direct report <or even face to face with anyone … just a letter delivered by a non-government employee>.
While there appeared to be no sense of urgency to terminate the action was taken with an absurd sense of senseless urgency which permitted Comey the indignity of being blindsided, in the middle of a commitment to the people who reported to him and not even in town.
This was a chicken shit way of terminating an honorable employee. It is indicative of Trump’s lack of character.
Postscript 2: Under the general heading of “this is some crazy shit” from a business perspective:
Firing someone for lack of confidence when the people who you are actually working for have a general lack of confidence in you is slightly surreal.
This may actually be the ironic point of the day.
Yesterday Donald J Trump fired his FBI Director because of ‘lack of confidence.’ Well. If that is a true criteria and I were to look at some national polling data I could argue Trump could be fired on the same criteria by the American people.
Most leaders do not defend their firing decision through childish name calling.
“Crying Chuck” “Richie” in quotes <instead of Richard>. Calling people diminishing names. Childish crap like that. I have been criticized as a leader for people I have fired, as well as people who i didn’t fire, and when appropriate I responded with some “why I did it” information but I never deflected my choice & decision onto others by suggesting they were not qualified to criticize … and I certainly always treated peers with a modicum of respect.
Tweet response rather than standing up in person
Sniping from the sidelines is not leadership.