Everyone Gets Fired

The veteran Wall Street Journal columnist, Hal Lancaster, once wrote that “getting fired is nature’s way of telling you that you had the wrong job in the first place.” That perspective makes incredible sense to most of us because everyone has been fired, at least once, whether this meant termination of employment, the closing of a business, the end of a contract or rejection in a personal relationship. It happens to everyone, no exceptions.

One of the best examples is in sports, especially the professional level. Many successful coaches have been fired several times only to resurface once again, sometimes in a very successful return appearance. As Leo Durocher, the fabled skipper of the Chicago Cubs baseball team noted, “the only way to make money as a manager is to win in one place, get fired, and then be hired somewhere else.” Clearly, skilled and effective leaders are sometimes fired. In fact, in over 90% of the cases of fired leaders, business executives and sports coaches expected they would be fired and felt there was little they could do to prevent being fired. Whether or not that was true, 90% is an impressive number.

If you find yourself in this position (one terminated executive I once worked with described himself feeling “hunted”), here are a few things to consider:

  • This may not be the position for you, as Hal Lancaster suggested. While there may be financial and professional reasons for you to hang in there, the position may not be aligned with your talents and passion. Ultimately, you could be better off seeking something different that is a better match, rather then waiting for “you’re fired.”
  • The organization may not be a good place for you. One client once told me that “I lived in fear that each major decision I made risked being ridiculed,” by the owner. There are clearly no-win situations and moving on is the best option.
  • You may be trying to put the whole world on your shoulders and simply wilt under the weight. In tough times, CEOs can worsen their situation by trying to do everything, doing nothing well and then suffering the consequences when a more strategic and above-the-fray perspective was needed.
  • You may be underperforming because of personal concerns that could range from emotional distress to substance abuse to physical health problems. The failure to address these may negatively affect your performance and create a perception of incompetence.

While everyone gets fired at least once in life, successful business leaders, like sports team managers, understand the risk is always there. Instead, they focus on operating in their area of greatest talent, continuing to build their skills, and maintaining a decent sense of humor in the face of life’s imperfections.