Several times in my career I was told something like “well, you aren’t really the boss until you have fired someone”. It occurred most frequently during the time period that is covered in my book The Intrepid Brotherhood. I can remember at least three individuals who said something similar to me during those years. They were all in peer positions or higher, and it became fairly obvious that they were parroting someone else. Undoubtedly, the CEO/General Manager at the time was the source for this pearl of wisdom. Depending on who they were my reaction at the time was either utter silence or a response something like “you can’t possibly believe that”. The idea that you are not a true leader until you have removed the majority of hope from the soul of someone that you have collaborated with for some period of time is, well……. preposterous. Termination for cause is unavoidable at times, but becoming a leader should concentrate more on the positive behaviors that can help avoid the circumstances that would require firing someone. I can’t imagine a checklist for leadership qualification that says “now you have to terminate someone before you get your ribbon”. Well ….. you get the idea.
This example is even more incredible. I was newly hired at a completely different employer than is the subject of my book. A short time after I got settled and started to put my plans into motion, my boss told me he wanted me to fire one of my direct reports – for something he had done prior to my arrival! All kinds of stuff should be running through your head right now. Why had they not dealt with this issue in a more timely manner? How can they expect me to terminate someone for circumstances that I have absolutely no knowledge or experience of? Or, maybe, is there some potential liability issue that caused them to wait for the “new guy” to execute this plan? Regardless of the reasoning, it was a very tough situation to navigate. I managed to hold the employee accountable for what he had done before our relationship began, and to satisfy the manager that we had inflicted sufficient punishment so that the employee knew he had transgressed. Hopefully everybody learned from that resolution, including the manager.
Advancing a concept like what we have discussed is like saying “you can’t call yourself a mechanic until you have dropped a pneumatic hoist on your foot”, or “you can’t call yourself a surgeon until a patient has died on the table”. The whole idea is contrary to the type of leadership that builds dedication and respect. If anyone ever says that to you, I recommend that you challenge them to explain how that action makes you a better leader and why that particular act would in any way “punch your ticket” as a leader and manager. It’s a ridiculous notion.