Opinion by Richard Bleil
The supervisor mentioned to me that he fired the assistant.
Now, I don’t know enough about the situation to have an opinion one way or the other in this particular situation, but I’ve been fired far more than I would like to admit, and, frankly, it’s looking like it’s about to happen again. I’ve also been on the other side of the table and had to cut people loose. Neither side of that conversation is fun.
Employees usually mess up for one of three overarching reasons. The first is that the employee did not understand what was expected of them. Recently I wrote about the importance of communication, and that what the person says is only a part of the overall process. A good supervisor will look into whether or not the employee understood what was expected of them before rushing to a decision. The second reason is lack of training. Maybe they understood what was expected but didn’t receive the training to be able to do it properly, or in the manner that the supervisor desired. Finally, insolence. Yes, sometimes the employee just doesn’t want to do the work. Two out of these three reasons really is not the fault of the employee at all, which is something that I always remembered when I had to make such decisions.
Poor communication is another problem. In another post, I spoke of the difference between leaders and politicians. This has been the root of my problem every time I’ve been let go in the past. Somebody decides they want to see me gone for one reason or another and begin a smear campaign. Unfortunately, my supervisors believe what they are told by these politicians. By the time they decide to finally talk with me, they’ve already made up their minds, and in their mind, I’m just plain wrong.
Many years ago, I dated a woman who was a little bit older than me. One day, when we got together for a date, she walked into my apartment angry with me. I asked her what was wrong, and her response was that I am wrong. She was angry, and there’s no need to argue about it because in the ride to the apartment, she went through in her mind every argument I could possibly make, and she discounted and proved each one wrong, so, the fight is over and I’m wrong. To this day, I still have no idea what the argument was about or what I did wrong.
So, as a supervisor, I kept three things in mind when talking with employees or, more extremely, deciding if they needed to be cut loose. First, are the problems really theirs. Is it possible that they didn’t understand, or have the proper training? If not, firing them really would not be fair. Second, did I have a preconceived notion of their guilt before hearing their side of the story? If I had already made my mind up, I wouldn’t really be listening to them to understand their perspective and, again, firing them wouldn’t be fair. And third is their uniqueness.
Let’s be honest. Nobody is indispensable. No matter how important you think you might be to a company, an institution, wherever it might be, that business will go on once you leave. It doesn’t help to storm out of a job thinking “I’m the only one who knows how to…” or “let’s see if somebody else can…” because they will, whether you want to believe it or not, figure it out. They were likely there before you started working with them, and they’ll be there once you’re gone, but, they can never replace you.
This might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s true. What I’m talking about is finding somebody else to do your job, versus replacing the uniqueness of who you are. You have your own style, your own way of accomplishing what needs to be done and have made your own contributions. Those are things that can never be replaced.
As a director of a forensic lab, I acquired the accreditation that the department had been seeking for two decades of directors before me. As Dean, I opened up channels of communication that helped tear down barriers that had been up for years. In my current position, I’ve made improvements to the organic chemistry lab and developed a significant question bank that can be used for years to come. Everywhere I have been, I have left my fingerprints. I’ve managed to improve it in some way, contributions that can never be taken away from me. Everywhere you have been, you have left your indelible mark. You have changed it, somehow, maybe for the better, maybe not, but your legacy remains, and always will.