Great Leaders Don’t Fire Anyone

Written by on November 17, 2015

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a leader, firing someone is never easy. We take on the emotional response of the person that is about to lose their job and forget that NOT firing someone sometimes creates bigger issues for the overall team. Who just came to mind? Do you have someone right now that you think needs to be fired? My guess is you do. The person you just thought of probably should have been fired a long time ago. There are very few cases where people are fired too quickly. Almost every leader we work with has at least one person on their team that they know should have already shown the exit. Don’t get me wrong, the reason you don’t want to show someone the path to their next career means you are probably sympathetic, empathetic, or just a super nice person. It is probably one of your better leadership characteristics….that you care about your people.


The other side is a tipping point occurs when you care more about the feelings/experience of one person than you care about the experience of the entire rest of the team. They know who you just thought of that needed to be fired. They know that it should have happened a long time ago. They also know that you NOT firing them is reflecting poorly on your leadership. As Jim Collins so eloquently laid out in “Good to Great”….you have to have the right people in the right seats on the bus.

This brings me to the statement…”Great leaders don’t fire anyone.” Sounds counterintuitive to everything I just said, yes? How about this statement instead…..”Great leaders don’t fire anyone, they simply realize that people fire themselves”. I recently heard one of my colleagues, Deb Wiggs, talking about this while we were presenting a “Coach them up or coach them out” section at the National MGMA meeting in Nashville. She then added….”All the leader does is sign the paperwork”. I loved that statement and completely agree. I also like that it takes the focus away from the leader being the bad guy to the leader simply being responsible to the overall objectives of the organization.

Said differently, the leaders job is to create the expectations of their people then hold them accountable. When people don’t hold up their end of the employment agreement, they are simply firing themselves and you are just filling out the paperwork.