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Leader: 3 things to remember when you fire someone


She sent me a blistering email. It was lengthy. It was vindictive. It was accusatory. She threw several of the people on our team under the bus. Including her boss’s boss, who reported directly to me.  Leader – how would you react?

Her accusations were, for the most part, unfounded.  Her perspective was one-sided, defensive and petty.

Her email showed up in my in-box on a Saturday morning, and it threatened to ruin my entire weekend.

My initial reaction was to pick up the phone immediately and let her know her services were no longer needed.  I wanted to fire her on the spot.  How dare she?  Who did she think she was?  Didn’t she know better?

Things I’ve learned as a leader

But I’ve learned over the years to not necessarily trust my initial instincts. (that makes it sound better than it really is: I’ve dismissed enough people hastily and poorly over the years that I’m trying to not make the same mistakes again!) Leader – how do you respond?

Here are three best practices I’m learning when it comes to dismissing someone:

First of all: Slow down. Unless there is immediate risk to the enterprise, team members or customers, acting hastily is often the wrong thing to do.  Slow down, take a deep breath, sleep on it if possible.  The best decisions are not typically the quickest decisions.

Secondly: Get a second opinion.  Recognize that your response to their issues may not be the perfectly balanced and mature response you intend it to be.  Is there someone else you can do a reality-check with?  Who can you take into your confidence to check your motives?

Finally: Don’t let their insights get lost in their insults.  If they felt strongly enough about something that it provoked a strong reaction from you, perhaps there is more there than meets the eye.  While I’m not asking you to give in to them, I do think all of us as leaders should continually be checking our own perspectives.  What may we be missing?  What can we learn from them, even when they are hurt or angry?

She ultimately lost the privilege of working for our firm.  She was angry and hurt.  The separation was a bit ugly.  But as the leader, I knew it was the right thing to do.

Leader – how do you handle these types of things?  Any other best practices you’d suggest?