I will never forget the first time I terminated someone’s employment

What a dreadful situation. So many years of education. And yet I had never learned how to let somebody go. It was stressful for both of us, and I wasn’t sure what to say. I fumbled through the conversation I wasn’t sure how to tactfully explain to someone that they had performed their job so poorly that they were no longer considered a valuable member of our team.
It was only in the moment after they walked out the door, both of us feeling terrible that I realized that I had failed them. That I owned just as much, if not more, of that termination. I had done such a good job of telling myself that they were the problem, that I had failed to realize that I was a critical component of their success. 

  • No wonder they hadn’t met expectations. I couldn’t clearly articulate what I expected of them.
  • No wonder they couldn’t perform their job tasks. My delegation approach involved giving them full autonomy well before they were capable of doing the tasks, making decisions and handling problems.
  • No wonder they weren’t living and breathing our mission, vision and purpose. I hadn’t spent any time or effort getting them aligned to our strategy.
  • No wonder they were frustrated and demotivated. They were looking to me for guidance and support to help them succeed. And I was not performing.

It took me many years to fully realize and accept how I had contributed to that person’s termination. It took a lot of compassion for both them and myself. And it took developing my growth mindset so that I could fully accept my mistakes as an opportunity to grow.
The best part of allowing myself to accept, understand and learn from that failure is that I could dig into understanding how to support people and help them thrive in their work. I could elevate my ability to lead, and I could also elevate my ability to help others lead better. I’m glad I ended up on the path of learning how to support people and prevent performance issues rather than improve my ability to terminate people.
I still feel crummy about that first termination. I like to sit with that feeling every so often. It helps me to remember why I prioritize and advocate for things like developing expectations, creating safe spaces, and coaching people to help them thrive.


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