For most leaders, firing people is by far the least enjoyable part of the job. Even if you know it needs to be done, if you've got half a heart (and most of us do), you can be left to deal with the guilt of negatively impacting someone's life.

There are certainly some leaders who pride themselves on being able to regularly take the hard action that needs to be taken. They do it to ruthlessly ensure that their company has the right people with the right skills to achieve and maintain its competitive edge and culture.

Other leaders even have some strict rules to make sure they do it the right way.

To many leaders, though, getting from the decision that someone needs to be fired to then getting yourself to do it is really hard. After all, the person may not be performing well, but he or she is still a person. Often, you even like the person. Often, the person has a family and other things going on in life just like you do.

In my career as a leader and now as someone who consults to leaders regularly, I have found that most leaders know with some precision who isn't performing and who should be fired. But a large percentage of them become almost paralyzed when it comes to actually doing it.

Some even convince themselves that the person is salvageable or that they as a leader can turn this person around. Some convince themselves that the person is actually doing better than they really are.

If it is your first time having to do the deed, it is even harder. Wisdom and guidance from others is a necessity.

I vividly remember the first time I had to fire someone years ago early in my career. I was nervous going into it and had no idea what I was doing. I went in and said what needed to be said only then to somehow allow a debate to occur between myself and the person I just fired about whether she really should be fired.

That debate lasted almost an hour and a half. In retrospect, it was almost comical how badly I managed that. I've gotten better at it since then (for better or for worse).

The nervousness about doing it has never really gone away, though. There have been many times where I have even found myself finding ways to try to talk myself into the fact that this person really didn't need to go.

So how do you get over the hump?

I got some great advice about that years ago from a source surprisingly close to me. My dad, a forty year veteran of the small business word in operations and manufacturing, became known in his business circles as "Max the Axe." As his name might suggest, he fired his share of people and seemed to do it with a surprising level of ease despite the fact that I knew he wasn't cold-hearted at all.

What I learned was that it was actually quite the opposite. He was very much considering the well-being of his good employees every time the need to fire someone came around.

Here's what he told me:

"If I have 10 employees and 9 of them are really good, hard-working, solid performing people, I'm doing them a disservice by not firing the one employee who isn't cutting it or is disruptive.

It's not fair to my 9 good employees to delay any action on my one bad employee. I'm firing the one bad employee to show my commitment and make work a better place for my 9 good employees."

As hard as firing an employee may be, when you think about it like that, it is hard not to want to do the difficult work of firing someone.

Your good employees will be grateful.

Published on: May 17, 2017
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