My first experience .. firing someone!

I was promoted to manager, inadvertently, and very early (I was 21, and I was already a father). Sounds good! Among the good and bad things of my first year, “I had” to lay someone off.

When my “team” started, we were just my boss and me working. Other people arrived shortly. As my boss did not have high managerial aspirations at the time, it was my responsibility to lead and manage, for lack of choice. I, though very strenuous, was terrible.

I wanted to be a friend of the people on my team. I wanted the people who worked with me to be happy and fulfilled. I used to visit their homes, give them advice (the best and the most honest), I shared the little I knew and my passion for wanting to create software to “change the world.” I knew nothing about situational leadership nor goals. However, I had already read “The Servant” (I hate this book) and tried to be a “servant leader.”

I had a couple working on my team. He was an excellent technician, intelligent, exotic. She, disruptive, smart, and provocative. Both in love with Heavy Metal (I learned to like the style with them). He was one of the team’s technical influences. She, though incredible, failed to fit in with the group culture (at least, that’s what I thought) …

She did usually arrive late. She did not deliver her tasks on time (of course, our deadlines were set with almost no criteria). She did not quite understand what we were trying to do (or I did not explain it right, I will never know). She did not … a lot of things.

I decided, in agreement with my boss, to abbreviate her relationship with the company on a Friday (some say Friday is the worst day to fire someone). It was just after two in the afternoon. I took courage and called her for a “little talk.” In the office, someone even jokingly said that she would be fired (needless to say, I did not know where to put on a yellow smile).

Our “little talk” did not take long. I had the impression that she already knew that I would fire her. (some say that’s a good sign). I, although I had trained the speech I would use, “I got lost in words” .. I stammered, I regretted … I said that the problem was probably not her … also did not mean that the problem was me. In the end, I thanked her, and that was it.

She returned to her desk with the same attitude with which she went to our meeting. Today, remembering the scene, I’m sure she was sad, but she disguised herself well enough. The guy, the stupid one who had prophesied “today you will be fired,” tried to joke again asking “So you were fired?”. Her answer was short and dry: “Yes!” She smiled. He closed his face and stammered out an apology. Everyone looked at me at the door of the room. I have no idea of what my body language was saying.

So it was my first experience firing someone. It was not her first time being fired. For me, it was fast and challenging. It was traumatic. I remember the details to this day. She probably forgot!

They were a couple. After I fired the girl, he also left.

After a long time…

I wish I could say it was the first and last time I had to fire someone. However, it would be a lie! I wish I could say it got a lot easier with time. It would be another lie!

In practice, firing someone is not and will never be an easy task. However, sometimes, it is necessary.

Over time, I have understood that if the person “feels” that they will be fired, then you are doing it the right way.

I never had to fire anyone because of ethical misconduct or something more serious. I am grateful, every day, for this!

I never fired someone who performed very well and who failed in only one task.

If someone, who works with me at delegation level (where I make it clear just what the expected result is), starts to fail repetitively, I assume a “supportive” leadership style.

If someone who works with me on the level of sharing (where I support, listening to their action plans and offering insights), starts to fail, again and again, I assume a coaching leadership style.

If someone who works with me on the level of persuasion (where I point to the goal and point the plan of action, being open to creative adjustments) begins to fail recurrently, I assume a “directive” leadership style.

If someone who works with me, who should do exactly what I say and the way I point out, without much room for adaptations, is not able to meet our agreements. So in these cases, and only in those cases (at normal levels of pressure and force), I fire that person.

There is and must be a long distance between the delegation to the exit door.

Elemar Júnior

Microsoft Regional Director and Microsoft MVP. I have been working for more than two decades developing world-class business software. I had the privilege to help to change the way Brazil sells, designs and produces furniture. Today, my technical interests are scalable architectures, database engines, and integration tools. Also, I am crazy about exponential organizations and business strategy.

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1 Comment
  1. Bruno Melo

    Estou sem palavras… que belo artigo!

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