One thing I learned many years ago is that you do a dis-service to an individual by leaving them in a role where they are not succeeding. Some people don’t succeed due to their own faults, and others don’t succeed simply because they are not the right match for the position they have been placed in due to no fault of their own. But nonetheless, when a person is not succeeding their self-confidence and self-worth suffers, and the most humane thing you can do in that circumstance is to set them loose to find a position that is better suited for their talents and abilities and that will allow them to go find something where they can grow and shine.
I remember the first time I had to fire an employee. I was only 24 years old. I had struggled with the decision to keep or let go an employee for months. I knew the person wasn’t succeeding but I also saw how hard they were trying, and they were so nice. But no matter how hard they tried it was clear that they didn’t have the right skill-set to succeed in the position and they never would. He was older and I also worried it might be difficult for him to find a job at his age, which weighed heavily on me…so heavily that I kept him on… Months went by and I thought I was being kind to keep this man in the job. Then one day I was sitting with a client and the client asked, “Do you think you are doing that man a favor by keeping him in a job he will never be good at?” I was caught off guard by the directness of the question and immediately started to say what a nice person he was and how I worried that if I let him go he might have a hard time finding a job elsewhere and so forth. The client, who had far more wisdom than I did at that point, said, “You aren’t doing him a favor. In fact, keeping him in a job he will never excel at is the biggest dis-service you could do for him. It kills his self-worth keeping him in a job he’s not good at. The kindest thing you could do for him is to let him go because that will allow him to go and find a position where he can actually excel.”
I left that clients office with such a different perspective than I had going in. Here I’d thought I was being kind to keep this man on the job, when in reality I was actually hurting him. With that new perspective I let the man go.
A few months later I bumped into the man I’d fired. He came over and hugged me and said, “I want to thank you!” At first I thought he was being facetious, but the sincerity on his face was clear. He went on to explain that after I let him go he went out and got a job teaching which was really what he had always wanted to be doing but never had the courage to pursue. He shared how my firing him is what pushed him to go after a teaching job and now he was the happiest he’d ever been because he was doing something he was excelling at.
What a powerful lesson that was for me to learn as a young leader.
Companies succeed or fail not based on their product or service but on their people. A leaders most important job is #1 picking the right people to be on the bus with them, and #2 being wise enough and kind enough to ask those who are not good at their jobs to exit the bus. When leaders do those two things well they don’t just ensure success for their organization but they help everyone, even those they had to fire, to be more successful in their lives.
~Amy Rees Anderson (author of the book “What Awesome Looks Like: How To Excel in Business & Life” )