The worst example of Leadership I've heard in a while...

The story goes something like this...

A relatively new employee arrived at work and as she settled into her day she got a call from Human Resources to come to their office. Upon arriving, she was informed she was being terminated; they went on to say it wasn't a performance issue, that they would give her a good reference, and the situation was the result of broader business issues. It was effective immediately, and did she want them to collect her things.

After hearing this, I asked where her boss was when as this was happening and was told he was in another office in the building. I could not help but become indignant on her behalf and said, "That is just awful leadership, and most likely reflects a gutless culture. You are better off not working for an organization like that." 

Before I offer a perspective as to why I said this, I should make it very clear that I understand employees get terminated, be it for cause or simply because the company is at a bad time in the business cycle. It is one of those hard realities of business. I operate under a simple premise that hiring managers hire and hiring managers fire, and there is a great responsibility that comes with hiring, managing, leading, and every so often, terminating people. This situation was a lack of ownership in my mind and avoiding the responsibility for the greatest asset a company has.

If you may be thinking Human Resources IS responsible for terminating, I will suggest that's not the case. Human Resources is responsible for governance of people, the systems and processes for people management, coaching, and maybe even development, but not termination of a person (or hiring for that matter). They are a partner in what has to be done, but the responsibility and ownership is with the manager.

Terminating someone from the organization needs be, and always should be, a very difficult thing to do. There needs to be a constant reminder that it is not a faceless exercise and that a person's life is being impacted. I understand that a person owns his or her career, as well as meeting the expectations that come with the role, but it is important to keep this in mind:

  • If they are not working out, maybe you shouldn't have hired them in the first place.
  • If they were struggling, did you work to develop them up to their potential or out of the organization in a clear and respectful manner.

In the case of the story that I heard the other day, the manager should have been front and centre to look the person in the eye and deliver the difficult news, if for no other reason than the respect owed to the person. 

And this brings us back to why I think it's the worst example of Leadership I've heard in a while. Why would anyone want to work for an organization that doesn't want to take ownership, avoids what is difficult, and doesn't respect the most important asset they have? I will also point out that the manager has a boss, and that boss has a boss, and this situation most likely reflects something bigger than just one person. It probably reflects a company culture and maybe that is why they are struggling.

What makes this story even more interesting is two days after being terminated the company called the woman back and offered her a job. She of course declined.

Rightfully so in my mind.