Graceful Termination 2.0

After sending my last blog about accountable culture, my 93-year old father sent me his thinking on the matter. For context, he was once the head of Human Resources for what was then the old Donnelly Mirrors in Holland Michigan and ended his corporate career as head of Human Resources for Nike in Portland Oregon. He is hard at work on this third book, this one titled “Meaningful Work.” In his book he has a section about the applications of virtue in the practical matters of leading and managing a business. I find it both poignant and instructional…enjoy.


There are and will be occasions when a person must be removed from a job or from an organization. When this is the result of misconduct prejudicial to the good order of the organization, it should be done with due process (justice), and with efforts to rehabilitate the offender (empathy and compassion). When a person must be removed from a job for incompetence, he or she need not necessarily be removed from the organization. Every effort should be made to provide appropriate training and find the job in the organization the person can perform competently. There is a right job for everyone and in fairness to the worker, to others, and to the organization people must be in jobs for which they are competent.

Managers often fail to address issues of unsatisfactory performance in a timely manner because dealing with poor performers is the single most-difficult aspect of the manager’s job, and training for this problem is often lacking. Good performers demand little of the manager except direction and periodic encouragement and recognition, they make the manager’s job easy. Conversely, poor performers demand constant attention and make the manager’s job difficult. To deal with difficult problems forthrightly and expeditiously takes the virtues of patience, wisdom, justice, fortitude and love. Allowing a person to stay in a position for which they are not suited harms the worker, co-workers, and the organization. For optimum personal and spiritual growth, every person needs a position in which they are successful and thereby able to grow.

The following email from an employee who had been fired is an example of the way firing is often done. The reasons firing like this is so common are twofold: First, managers believe that the needs of the organization are preeminent and employees are only valuable to the extent they serve the organization. Second, managers are poorly trained to handle this difficult part of their job.

Hello Mike,

After having a night to reflect on what happened yesterday, I cannot argue with your decision to replace me in the buyer position. I guess that I have never fit your mold of an “automotive buyer”, and that is just as well, because I never really wanted to fit that mold. I guess that I am just too much of a “nice guy” to act like an automotive buyer is supposed to act, and that is OK.

I’ve heard it said that in the business world, and particularly in the automotive business world, there is no room for the concept of grace and, regretfully, that fact is true, more and more so at the company.

I also wanted to point out that I was quite disappointed at the way you handled my dismissal. I understand that it is not an easy thing to do, but the way you did it was quite cold. At the very least, I expected a word or two of thanks for the 15 years I spent at the company, as I do feel that I was a contributor to the department and the company while I was there. And even a handshake may have been appropriate. But as it was, you simply told me that I was no longer going to be a part of the future of the company, and that I should simply pack my things and go. You then got up and walked out, without so much as a goodbye. Frankly, that hurt, and the timing was such that I did not even have time to say goodbye to many of the people that I have worked with for so many years. I certainly don’t expect a response from you to this, but use it for reference at future dismissals in order to be a little more gracious to others. You certainly do need a lot of work in that area.

I did not understand the reason for the abrupt termination. You never asked about the things that I have been working on or their status. My desk is full of things that I have been involved in lately, and I’m not sure how you plan to wade through all of it without any assistance. I am not a vindictive person, and would have been more than willing to stay for a week or two to make a smooth transition for whoever takes on that work. As it is, all I can say now is, good luck.

I truly hope that the company prospers in the coming years. I am thankful for the 15 years of employment that the company offered me (I was looking forward to receiving my 15-year service award next month), and for the many good people I have worked with during that time. I can say that it was a good experience to have worked there.


The CEO had received a copy of the worker’s email and sent this instructive response to the manager who fired the worker.


As in most things, there may be a part of John’s message we should listen to. I’m certain John has many “friends” at the company that will be sympathetic to his point of view as described in his email. To the extent the “survivors” are afraid of you as a leader, they will not open-up with you in the future. Based on my understanding of John’s personality, I felt “walking him out the door” may have been a little harsh.

As we have discussed, this is the most difficult thing any manager has to do. Please continue to learn and grow from your experiences. To be an effective leader, you will need the respect and support of your subordinates. If they are afraid of you, this will be more difficult to do.
I wasn’t there, and I’m not passing judgment. You need to decide the degree to which John is correct in his response. If you could have accomplished the same goal with more “grace”, please accept his criticism, consider this a learning experience, and improve the next time.


The response from the CEO to the manager who mishandled this action is one that expresses the importance of the spirit of the enterprise. The CEO reaffirms the principles he wants to nurture in the company and explains and models to the manager the important lesson to be learned. Coming, as it does, from the CEO, this is an effective leadership message in how to handle such a difficult task with grace and compassion.

About the Author

Paul Doyle
Paul Doyle is the founder of LeaderWork. He brings more than 35 years of diverse business experience, including 15 years as a CEO, leading manufacturing companies. Paul has been active in North America with companies ranging from $20 million to $450 million in revenue.