Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Being the Boss

I almost fired someone yesterday. I've only ever fired one person before and if you've been lurking here in the glitter bushes for a while, you might remember that it was very upsetting for me. I am an educator. I am a trainer. I want people to succeed. I am distressed when people fail; at some level i feel like their failure means that somehow i have failed them. Anyhoo, in this particular circumstance multiple mistakes had been made and personal attitude was bad; I was at my wit's end with this team member. It had become obvious to me that this particular failing was indeed not my failing, but rather the failing of the individual. Monday night i thought and thought and thought about what to do. I contemplated it. I evaluated it. I pro-and-conned it. I lingered over it. I tried to balance my gut feelings, my emotions, my intuition, my experience, my team's feelings, past events - you name it; it was all in the swirling pot of my brain. Even after i lay in bed trying to sleep the situation played through my head. It was 4 hours before i could even fall asleep. Tuesday morning i had my conclusion - a drastic course of action was the way to go. I talked to my boss; he and i hashed and rehashed the situation some more. The fastest, cleanest, easiest solution was to fire the person. The meeting was set. Cards were laid on the table, the hatchet was raised and at the last possible second, i pulled the punch. (nothing like multiple, totally unrelated metaphors to muddy up a sentence - yikes; sorry) Instead, an action plan was devised and put in to place. The team member left the meeting appropriately scared, but still gainfully employed (or as gainfully as you get in non-profit). I don't think they have any idea know how close it was to going the other way. After the meeting my boss looks at me and says Well, i wasn't expecting that. Yeah. No kidding. Neither was I. How did that happen? How did i go into the meeting with one resolve and then do something totally different? At first i was mad at myself. But as my boss and I debriefed, i realized that I didn't chicken out. It wasn't that i was unwilling or afraid to fire the team member, instead it was that during the conversation another option presented itself. Instead of being locked into my own course i saw another way. Last night as i thought about it more (cause that's what i do) the happier i became with the new solution. Yes, i was totally ready to fire this person, but now they have a chance at redemption. Now, they know that this is their last chance at redemption. Now, if they can't straighten up and fly right they will know the outcome. Now, it won't be a surprise if the hammer drops. Now, no one can say that i didn't really try to help them succeed. It was the right thing to do. I wonder how often the right thing is NOT the easy thing? During a much needed and well deserved bubble bath even later last night it struck me again how the thing about being the boss that no one ever prepares you for is that you hold part of a person's life in your hands. You hold a chunk of their financial stability and possibly part of their self-esteem and self-image right there in your hand. It's right there, people - you gotta hold it like a wee glass egg. In the hiring process i think about how each person that i reject has to continue their search; i am aware of that power and try to be gentle with it. I hate, hate to write those NO letters to people that i've interviewed because i can't help but to imagine what it would feel like to read it. But firing someone is really different. You aren't leaving them in their crappy status quo; you are creating a new, crappier status. If you fire someone, you instantly take away their paycheck. You take away their ability to pay the rent. Or buy groceries. You make them unemployed. For a lot of people, how many weeks does it take for unemployed to turn into moving home with my parents or homeless? Obviously, i realize that if someone is fired as opposed to down-sized or laid-off they did something to deserve it and really they are taking away their own paycheck, but you are the one who signs the paper. They may have earned the firing squad, but you are the one who has to load the bullet and pull the trigger. Damn, people - that is a lot of responsibility. After 9 years i would have thought that the weight of that responsibility would have eased a bit. I'm not as timid about large command decisions as i once was, but they really don't get any easier. I thought for sure they would get easier. I am no longer afraid that my actions (or inactions) will have catastrophic effects or that any mistake on my part will wreak untold devastation. I am more confident and answers come to me faster and with less mental anguish (yep, there actually use to be MORE mental anguish), but i can't say that it is easier. I like being the boss. I like the creative freedom over my program. But i have to say that it makes me uneasy to think that i can change someone's life with one sentence. But maybe that is the way it should to be. Maybe I'm supposed to feel uneasy so that i am never hasty in using that power. [when i was still mad at myself yesterday i said I'm such a big marshmallow and my boss replied No, you have just the right amount of marshmallow. it made me smile] I can honestly say, however, that i'm glad i didn't consciously think too much about the whole too-much-power-over-someone-else on Monday night while i wrestled with solutions to this specific situation. I'd STILL be trying to figure out what to do. Here's hoping it all works out.


Anonymous said...

This was really good. This ought to be in a management book or something. I hope it all turns out for the best,whichever way that goes.

Mike B

Douglas said...

You are as compassionate as you are wise : )

Anonymous said...

Heck, I wonder about that whole really-affecting-someone's-life thing just when we're in the hiring process. Oy.