Every now and then, I contemplate how difficult is to lead and what it takes to carry it off with respect and dignity. My reflections always include the courage it takes to deliver bad news. This week’s post is a reprise of one I wrote almost two years ago. I think it might be worth the repeat performance. What do you think?
Have you ever had to fire someone? Not a very savory task and yet, stuff happens. Jobs are eliminated or people don’t perform as expected and someone has to deliver the bad news. If you are a new leader, and if that someone is you, you will need to summon your courage to do it properly.
Here’s what can happen if you don’t.
Many years ago I had to terminate a young woman’s employment. She was not performing well and it seemed that she, and the job to which she was assigned, simply did not fit. Of course, the prospect of firing someone was a very unpleasant and scary one. I liked the woman. I also knew that she could ill afford to lose her job at that moment.
So I tried to do it gently. I took her aside and fed her a lot of platitudes to try and smooth away the hurt that was going to come. I talked and talked. I ummed and aahed. I skirted and danced around the issue and took care of my own discomfort first. And, when our interview ended, I was sure that I had delivered the message well. I felt better anyway
In fact, I was quite pleased with myself, even a little smug…until the next day… when she came to work as usual having no idea that she had been fired the day before.
Of course I had to do it again. And this time, I had to cut to the chase. It was very embarrassing for both of us and doubly distressing for her because her embarrassment was heaped on top of the shock of realizing that she no longer had a job. She didn’t deserve that.
If I had used more courage and been more direct with her I might have spared her dignity. As it was, I know she blamed herself for not getting the message even though it was entirely my fault. It was a bad job on my part and I have never forgotten the lesson I took from it. Here it is:
As a leader, there will be occasions when you will have to navigate through hard times. You will have to deliver bad news. You will have to confront people and issues to ensure that your business continues to move in a positive direction. You will sometimes have to stand alone against great opposition. And, you will have to do these things clearly, succinctly and respectfully. That means wherever you go, your courage will have to go with you.
And by the way, if you ever do have to fire someone, here’s a link that will help you to do it, properly.
When have you had to step up? Care to share?