The Hardest Thing A Leader Will Do

 In Leadership Development

It’s the least favorite responsibility of a leader: firing someone. Letting someone go is probably the toughest thing you’ll ever have to do as a leader. For anyone with a heart, it’s the dreaded duty that comes with the title. But, for any leader that’s committed to creating an extraordinary team, it’s an inevitable reality.

So, how do you do it? There’s no flawless formula or secret solution – but there are some ways to navigate this terrifying territory. I have put together my most straight-forward suggestions, the five C’s.

1. Caution. Nobody should be fired without some forewarning. They must be given at least one notice that outlines your areas of concern and explains what they need to do. Without giving someone a fair shot, it’s an unfair surprise.

2. Compassion. Do your best to put yourself in your employee’s position. This is one of the worst things to do to someone else and it’s one of the worst things to have done to you. Be empathetic and sensitive to the tough situation they are about to face.

3. Candid. Don’t drag the conversation out longer than it needs to last, get to the point. Most people can read others well enough to know where they’re going with their point, so the more fluff you add, the longer their agony. Be a straight shooter without losing your sincerity.

4. Conserve. Really do your best to maintain your professionalism. Prepare for the conversation, and reserve a space that’s private. This experience is harder for them than it is you, and if you attempt to become buddies when that was never your relationship, you’re watering down the message that might be critical for them to hear, in order to progress professionally.

5. Compliment & Connect. Do your best to identify strengths in the employees you fire, so that you explain to them what they have to offer in different environments. If you make it solely about what they’re lacking, they’ll leave feeling pretty worthless. Also, if you know of an opportunity that seems to be a suitable fit for them, be a resource and make them aware of these options. The key to this step is to be genuine. If it’s fake – you’re harming, not helping.

I will leave you with two quotes that will hopefully bring some hope to this hard process. One is from Steve Jobs, and the reason I share it is because it demonstrates that if firing is done right, it can sometimes help employees in unexpected, necessary ways. “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

This second quote is helpful to remind us that we can’t get the team we want, if we aren’t willing to do the hard work to secure the real SuperSTARs. Don Paullin said, “If there are only minnows in the pond, you can’t catch a trophy fish regardless of the bait.”

This is just one of the tough tasks of a leader. But if it’s done well, your team will be better off, and even the employee you fire can be freed to find a better fit.

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