Knowing the Fine Line Between Termination and Excellence

Originally published September 19, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press

Fine lines. There’s something about the beauty of balancing between two extremes that seemingly appeals to the senses. The place between sleep and awake, right and wrong, artistry and insanity.

Leaders, bosses and managers walk a fine line with employee performance. On one hand, demanding excellence is important; to be the best we can be. On the other hand, allowing for grace in mistakes and failures.

In reality, sometimes people need to be fired. Ending the relationship is a gift to them and the organization. It is important we do let these people go when the time comes.

When that happens, many of us spend the majority of our time thinking about the person we have to terminate and our own personal feelings on the matter. Often, the most important feelings we should take into consideration are those of the team members who remain.

Can you think of a time in your career when one of your coworkers, or worse, a senior leader in your organization was terminated? Do you remember the feeling of bewilderment, curiosity, and impending insecurity over your own position?

Of course employers can’t, or shouldn’t, talk about why someone no longer works with the organization. But that doesn’t matter. People always know without you saying a word.

The next time you let someone go, immediately gather your people. Let them know you understand how unnerving it can be to watch someone leave an organization abruptly. Make sure you express value in each of your team members; this was an isolated incident and no one is in danger of losing their job.

Some HR professionals may advise against this. But sometimes, coloring outside the lines is better than adhering to policy. If it came down to it and your “indiscretion” was brought to light, wouldn’t you rather take the heat for that than leave your team bewildered, insecure and distrusting?

As we established earlier, we are walking a fine line. Sometimes, firing someone is not the best choice. What if they are one of your most talented employees, yet continually display performance or social issues? Some organizations have little tolerance for these type of individuals and eventually find a way to push them out or let them go. Other organizations let the behavior fester and affect other team members and the organization as a whole. Neither of these approaches build trust, security, or respect between you and your team.

True leaders have the ability to see through behavioral mishaps. These leaders know good talent may get thrown out with the bathwater if the situation isn’t handled properly.

There was once a young Naval officer named Elliot. He was fired from the ship he was working on and reassigned to the USS Benfold under the command of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff.

Captain Abrashoff quickly discovered that despite Elliot’s young age of twenty-three, he had more technical and tactical knowledge than many of Abrashoff’s department heads. The problem was Elliot’s self-confidence. His former crew members sensed this and sadly bullied him as food for their own egos. Elliot came to Benfold rough, defensive and on the fight.

Many leaders would have contributed to the demise of Elliot. After all, traditional management practices teach us we must separate personal and professional performance issues. But that’s never reality. Each person is a collision of who they are personally and professionally. Extricating one from the other is foolish and short sighted.

While Captain Abrashoff knew it would take extra time and personal attention, he took Elliot under his wing. He told Elliot that Benfold’s crew is entrusted to treat everyone with dignity and respect and that no less would be accepted from Elliot. In turn, no one would belittle Elliot. Abrashoff went on to help Elliot recognize his strengths over time. Because of this investment, Elliot ended up with a successful career as a Naval leader and later, businessman.

More than this, Abrashoff’s crew got the message that screw-ups happen, and the ship and its commanders believe in comebacks. The crew understood their leader was there to help them and not give up on them. In his book, “It’s Your Ship”, Abrashoff writes, “Leaders and managers need to understand that their employees are keenly attuned to their actions and reactions. If they see you give up on someone, they understand instantly that there’s no room for redemption in this outfit, and they could be next to go. If they see you intervene to help someone who is worth your effort, they will be reassured.

End result? A team who is secure in their position, confident in your leadership and comfortable enough to take risks when warranted. Better than that? A positive attitude about you and the organization. A gift that no amount of money can buy.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. She can be reached at