When you're the company founder or CEO, a time is going to come when you're going to have to fire someone. The first hires at a startup are too important: if you get one wrong, the company will suffer. If you wait too long to fix your mistake, the company may even go under. As the company grows, the stakes lower, but only incrementally. Keeping on a person who isn't up for the job means that not only does their work not get done, but their whole team suffers. 

There are two big mistakes that leaders make when firing: waiting too long or being a jerk. 

Leaders wait too long to fire because they feel bad for the person. They know how much it sucks to get fired, and they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. They know that the person has a family, a mortgage, or other important things that their job supports. 

Leaders act like jerks for the opposite reason. They're not thinking about how the person being fired feels, but only about the fact that firing this person is best for the company. 

My framework, which helps me avoid both of these traps, is to separate these two priorities of doing what's best for the company and being empathic toward another human being. 

Do What's Best For the Company

When I'm deciding whether to fire someone, I focus on the first part: doing what's best for the company. As the CEO, this is my job. If I don't do it well and the company closes, then all the people who are employed by the company will be out of work. The problem that my company set out to solve will remain unsolved. A lot of work, passion, and money will go down the drain. 

Doing what's best for the company is a very real responsibility, and I take it seriously. If I need to fire someone for the good of the company, then I will do it. 

Be an Empathic Human Being

Once I've made the decision to fire someone, however, I take off my CEO hat. Instead, I come to the situation as a human being. When I do the firing, I deliver the news with as much empathy and understanding as I can. This is another human being, with their own responsibilities--and their pride. I do my best to offer honest feedback about why they are being fired, and to show them that I care about their pain. 

Being kind and caring toward another person in pain is my responsibility as a human being--one we all share. 

Firing people is one of the worst parts of being a founder or CEO, but it can be done well, for the right reasons and in the right way.

Published on: Oct 3, 2019
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