In my corporate career, I have always found the best and most powerful employees because I knew and understood how to build the right teams. While I found 100’s of great success stories that I trained from the ground up, I also found half of that number in people that I replaced very quickly. In my ten years in corporate America, I earned the title of “Terminator,” which I used to think was geared towards my ability to kill sales goals, but later learned it was really because many believed I was firing too many people. I never looked at it that way, as I only truly fired one person in my whole career, and that person was myself.
I’ve come to realize throughout my corporate life that no one other than yourself (not even your boss) can fire you. The reality, is that even being hired is completely in your hands and not in the hands of those interviewing you.
While people gave me the name “Terminator” for allowing so many people to find their purpose outside of working for me, I still believe that I was doing just the opposite of terminating people by closing a door and allowing people to find another way to their goals.
If you read my last article, Why Nice Guys Finish Last, then you will know that I was never a nice leader, but rather a fair one, and always allowed everyone two opportunities when they came to work for me.
The first opportunity was giving my employees the privilege to make an impact. No one I ever brought on to my team was there to work. From the very beginning, everyone had an opportunity to make a difference in our business and how we delivered on our priorities. I called this a privilege because no one was ever hired by me to do work, but rather given an opportunity to create results that mattered and helped everyone else succeed.
The second opportunity was that everyone who ever worked with me had the privilege to work in an environment that allowed them to learn and grow. Every office I managed had a goal based on growth as much as a sales goal. Meaning that if someone ever asked me for a raise, they were automatically asked to leave. That’s right, if you need a raise at your job, it is because you are incompetent. Plain and simple.
The point of working for others is to keep growing and to learn from within without the risk of collapse, unlike entrepreneurship. If you spend 40 hours a week pushing yourself for 52 weeks and you are still not qualified to take on the next role in your career, then you are wasting everyone’s time.
A year is long enough to demonstrate your ability to not only accomplish your goals but also surpass them. If you have mastered a trade, you should be allowed to carry on to bigger and better roles, and therefore earn much more than a miserable 3-5% raise based on meeting quotas. I always said to all my team members that if anyone is still here in a year, then you are simply lazy.
Since these two opportunities existed for every single person who came in contact with any of the teams I managed, then it only made sense that it was impossible for me to actually fire anyone. All they could have really done is fire themselves, and all I could have done is made sure the door closed behind them so they would have to look for another door.
Here are five key points to take away about termination as it pertains to leadership, as I would know as I eventually fired myself from a ¼ million dollar salary.
1. The employee is and always has had full control over their promotion or termination.
The reality is that while it’s easy to blame all of the people around you for your failures, and I agree that some managers are more difficult to work for or are not as fostering and helpful, working is a choice you have made, even if you hate your job. There is only one way out of a bad position and that is to move up to the next position, not out the door.
When I started out as a manager trainee in banking, I was young and I thought my first boss wasn’t worth two shits – he was lazy, understood absolutely nothing about people, and certainly wouldn’t make a single goal without my help, yet he loved to take credit for all of my work. So my options were to fire myself or promote myself, and I chose the latter, and in doing so ended up in a position where he worked for me.
2. It’s not your family, so you don’t have to give a sh*t.
You could think I was being cold by saying that if someone lost their job I didn’t care about the impact it would have on their family, but it wasn’t my problem, and it was never going to be. Too often we get caught up on the fact that if we facilitate someone’s exit from our company, we will hurt them and their financial situation – especially if we know they are single mothers or are dealing with financial issues. But I used to say, if you don’t give a SH&^% enough to work your ass off for your own kids, then why should I give a SH^&% if they eat or not?
The person in control of the job is the one having final control over what happens to their job. If someone also decides voluntarily that the work is not for them, then they are protecting their family by making sure they transition on their terms rather than with the element of surprise.
3. People who don’t want to grow are USELESS to ANY company.
While it’s perfectly okay that not everyone is fit to be an entrepreneur and evolve or not everyone wants to be a leader or manager, it’s NOT okay if someone has no goals, no aspirations, and no desire to be better than they are and improve. There is enough average people out there doing average work, and while that may be okay if you want to be a cashier at Walmart your whole life, it’s NOT okay in a company whose focus is growth.
Having aspiration and goals of growth, means that you are motivated to become better at what you do in the timeframe you spend working, not just being at work but trying hard to improve at work. Be great or fire yourself, as it’s best for everyone around you.
4. Employees must have a plan to promote themselves, not to be promoted.
Most people go work somewhere because of the job they were offered. While from the way I looked at things, I wouldn’t care what role I had where I worked, as long as I knew I would eventually have the right role within the same company. The best way to hire people is to understand where they want to be in the next 5-10 years and help guide them in the right direction, so they can get there. This builds loyalty and a great level of respect.
Most people believe their boss is responsible for promoting them and I will never forget my response to anyone who asked me if they were ready to be promoted. I used to say, “What are you waiting for, a treat?” When you hire the right people, you are establishing right away that the tools they have are their ability to self-educate themselves in order to continue to the next level. That being said, they should never come to you and ask if they are ready for a promotion, but rather if you would endorse them.
Someone’s promotion is in their own hands, and always has been. I always used to spend extra time talking to the person that would be my next boss should I get promoted, even when I knew it would probably not matter for another year or two. People always wondered why I had friends in departments that had very little to do with my current role, and my answer was always, “People hire people they trust.” When I went to go apply for that next role in order to promote myself up, the person hiring would already know me, be comfortable with and trust me, and this was the main reason why no matter what someone else had on their resume, I would be more qualified for the role.
5. Employees always fire themselves when they lose interest.
As I said earlier, most employees terminate themselves by being average or merely thinking that working is a right. While working for minimum wage may feel like a right, working to succeed is a privilege and should be cared for as such. As great leaders, our roles are to be ahead of our employees and to create environments that foster growth, self-education, and the opportunity to be great. Nevertheless, it is also up to the employee to harness such environment and take advantage of them.
When people create routines and consider their work a job rather than a privilege, they tend to focus 30% on work and 70% on their personal life, and end up becoming disconnected from the reality that they are on the path to firing themselves. Our job is not to keep them interested, as we are not babysitters, but instead give them the opportunity to promote or fire themselves, as an unengaged employee is poison to a business, the teams around them, and more importantly themselves.
Earlier I mentioned the only person I ever fired was myself, and that is very true. In the latter part of my career I, myself, became cocky and complacent, and as a result, believed I was invincible. This mindset made me forget the values that had helped me get that far to begin with, the work I put in to know who to trust, and the people I chose to build alliances with.
The day I terminated myself was the day I liberated myself from my dream and ended up faced with reality. While it may have seemed harsh at first as no one would ever give me the same opportunity again, it was later ended up that firing myself was what eventually gave birth to my real American dream.