Help People Fire Themselves

The best advice I ever got was from an Army recruiter.

Just before I was about to sign up for the military, following the path of my mother, father, and grandfather, he asked me “Being the non-conformist that you seem to be (we had just gotten into an argument about whether I would go in as an enlisted soldier or an officer) do you really think the military is the best place for you to be?”

I answered no to that question. I left the recruiters office and never walked back in.

And, I regret that decision a lot.

He could have told me no. That he wasn’t recruiting officers and to find somewhere else to go. He also could have let me sign up, and learned whether or not the non-conformist would, in fact, make it in the US military.

Instead, he made it directly my choice. My mistake or success. My decision to sign papers or not sign papers. And, to this day, the regret I feel for not having signed is mine to own.

Which is why I call it the best advice I was ever given and why I think learning the art of having people fire themselves is one of the healthiest things we can do for our employees and those who were are trying to give advice too.

So many times people are let go without any learning. Angry that someone took their job from them or that no one told them what was going wrong.

Questions like, “Is this the best use of your talent? Where do you think you could add more value? Where do your passions really lie? And what is it that you really want to do?” shouldn’t just be reserved for coaching conversations. They can be used as tools to help people that are in the wrong position, struggling, or underperforming realize they have the power to make a different choices.

Because I was able to make my own decision, and live with my own regret, I am much more clear and purposeful about where I want to go and what I want to do when making career choices today.

If we spend less time making decisions for other people, and help them make the decisions for themselves, we might find that aligning people to better opportunities is much more beneficial to both parties than simply letting someone go.

Firing people does little good for either party. Our job is to align the best people with the best roles. And, if we can help them be part of that process, then helping them fire themselves can be the most generous thing we can do.

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