Words like 'I'm sorry' or 'forgive me' don't come easily for most.
Today, less than two weeks before Christmas, I fired a woman. Last week, when she told me that I reminded her of her daughter, I smiled. This week, when I told her she was no longer employed with us, I said "I'm sorry."
A long time ago, someone in HR had a spot to fill. This woman came in looking for something part-time to keep her busy during the day. The HR hired her with no qualms and put her in the open spot. Sink or swim. Everyday she came in and gave her personal best. She was in a key position so whenever we would have corporate visits, she would always be sure to wear a shirt with a collar. I liked seeing that kind of effort.
Unfortunately, the role wasn't a good match for her. Normal tasks were a challenge and she struggled with the level of accountability that came with the job. She started sinking fast.
When I met with her a month ago and expressed my concerns about her performance, she said she understood and that she would try harder. I observed her for the next few weeks and saw her trying to figure out why her best just wasn't good enough. It made me kind of sad in a way that was all too familiar.
I was proud when she stopped blaming herself for not being 'good enough' and started to see the disconnect between what she was good at and what the position required. I saw her humbled and reaching out to other people for help. I liked seeing that kind of effort.
Today, as she shook my hand and said, "thank you for the experience," I told her that I wished things could've been different from the very beginning. I truly do.
First jobs are often meant to be a headline story in our lives. They are mentioned in the stories you tell your children right after you mention how you walked 5 miles in snow to cut firewood and kill bears. Ironically, this wasn't her first job, or even her second. At 60-something years old, this was probably her last job. Instead of being a headline in her life, it will be the story that her children tell their children. It will be what they vow to not do--grow old, retire, work again, work hard, only to be let go.
The measure of a leader is discovered in many different ways, but ultimately, it is an innate understanding of psychology that separates good from great. Knowing how to trust in my sense of what is right, learning how to deliver difficult messages, and reacting to unplanned situations have proved to be invaluable throughout my career. There has to be an appreciation of angst, without actually having the angst.
So I guess the moral of this story is in the beginning, there was desperation, and in the end, there is still desperation. One got her hired and the other got her fired.
I've always found it amazing that two people can experience the same thing and have completely different reactions. For this reason alone, I believe that there are certain emotions worth practicing because you don't get a second chance with most people or most situations. Desperation is a key example.
Today I fired a woman.