Solution Saturday: Afraid to Fire People


Dear Dan,

What would you say to leaders who are afraid to fire people?

I have two clients who are afraid to let go of employees. One has to let someone go who is manipulative and is a headache for everyone – except one valued employee who he befriended. They are afraid to let him go because this valued employee will be upset.

Thank you.

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Dear Coach,

First of all, I’d be concerned if they weren’t at least a little uncomfortable with letting people go.

Second, please confirm any legal requirements for terminating employees in your area.

Explore reasons for possible termination:

Get clear about the reasons you’re talking about termination.

  1. Customer complaints.
  2. You wouldn’t hire them again, if you had the chance.
  3. Values collide.
  4. They intentionally ignore or violate clear instructions.
  5. Your team is de-energized because of a low performer.
  6. They excuse unacceptable behavior and don’t aspire to be better.
  7. They reject or persistently resist change.

Evaluate history:

History is one predictor of the future. If you’ve been trying to help for six months and things aren’t improving, another six months of the same thing won’t help.

What will you wish you had done six months from now?

The problem with passion to develop people is small progress becomes an excuse for unacceptable results. Tolerating incompetence or poor performance isn’t development.

Leaders endorse mediocrity when they sacrifice medium-term results in the hope of developing people.

Clarify motive:

Always act with the best interest of others in mind. Is this what’s best for our customers, team, organization, and the individual in question?

It’s not best to keep individuals who don’t fit.

Stay committed:

Be as committed to their success on the day they walk out as they day they arrived.

Evaluate time usage:

Short-sighted leaders pour too much energy into poor performers.

  1. What are you doing for people who want to grow?
  2. How might poor performers distract you from maximizing others?
  3. How would you spend your time, if it wasn’t with poor performers?


Plan and practice the termination conversation, even if you might not use it. What does practicing the termination conversation teach you about this situation.

Ultimately, reluctance to terminate someone is about you, not them.



What should leaders avoid when it’s time to terminate someone?

What suggestions do you have for someone who is afraid to let someone go?

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