The Upside of Being Fired

I was miserable in my job. When I interviewed for the position, one of the questions I’d asked was whether they functioned well as a team. The answer had been a resounding YES. The reality, however, was something very different. Brittle laughter could be heard in staff meetings when a joke was cracked—usually at the expense of another staff person. They didn’t know how to function as a team, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I had been hired to bring change into this organization, but at that point in my career I didn’t know anything about leading change. And I was the first outside person they’d hired in twenty-three years. To top it all off, I was busy climbing my own career ladder and much of my life was all about me.

Eventually, I was told the position would be eliminated and I’d be given time to find another job. I had negotiated an agreement for sufficient time to look for a position that would fit my needs, and within a couple of weeks I got a call to interview for a position in Chicago’s inner city. This not-for-profit organization was in turn-around mode, and the leadership had a reputation for making tough, business-minded decisions that were often perceived as ruthless.

Surely God didn’t want me to go there?

I decided to go to the interview, if only for the experience, but I also was hoping to discover some redeeming qualities about the organization that might give me the courage to accept the position if it was offered to me.

The all day Friday interview was as fast and tough as I’ve ever experienced; half-hour slots with various leaders and board members; little time with the people I would lead; and an offer of employment at 3:30 that same afternoon. I told them I would let them know my decision by the end of the weekend. I prayed, I wrestled—and I decided God surely could not intend for a young, white woman from a farm in Indiana to go serve in an inner city housing project. And so out of fear, I turned down the position on Sunday evening.

On Monday morning I heard the words, “You’re fired!” Stunned, I called my husband, who came over with some boxes and we started packing up my office. Just then, the phone rang—it was the leadership in from the organization in Chicago, wondering why I had said no and what it would take for me to reconsider.

I accepted the position and my time there became one of the best experiences of my career. It was a delightful place with plenty of diversity and people who really cared about each other. We learned how to function as a team and I learned how to serve others. God used this experience as a wakeup call and taught me some very valuable lessons about integrity and service. Have you experienced an upside to being fired?

My Marriage Fix

I didn’t marry you to have you gone when I wake up and crashed on the couch after supper.

Those words served as a danger bell tolling in my marriage. It forced me to choose between the two things I valued most in life: my marriage and my career. I was the executive director of the New City YMCA Family Center in Cabrini-Green near downtown Chicago. We lived in one of the suburbs and the commute was awful. On a good day, with little traffic, it was a thirty-minute drive. During rush hour and inclement weather, the drive easily turned into an hour and a half. If you’ve driven in Chicago, you know what I’m talking about!  One day, thinking I’d take the train in and avoid the rush, I went to the station and spent fifteen minutes just looking for parking. I didn’t realize that unless you got to the station before rush, there were no empty spaces. From that point on, unless it rained or snowed, I always drove to work on Chicago interstates.

 I’m a Type A personality, and I have little patience with stop-and-go, rubbernecking drivers. On top of that, spending an hour driving seemed  like such a total waste of time. So I got up at 4:30 am and arrived at work by 6:00. I was rewarded by getting lots of work done before 8 am, when business in the building increased.  I stayed at the office until around 6:30 pm because I felt guilty leaving in the middle of the afternoon, even though I’d already put in a full day’s work. I arrived home around 7:00 in the evening, just in time to wolf down some dinner and crawl into bed so I could get up again at 4:30 and do it all over again.  I often went into the office on Saturdays and Sundays, because the YMCA I worked for was open seven days a week.

 It was about a year into this grueling schedule that my husband challenged me. The irony was that when I’d interviewed for this job, I’d told the committee that my values were: my faith, my family, and then my career. But I wasn’t living those values—especially not in that order. For a long time, I put my career way ahead of my first two values. With my husband’s words echoing in my head, I made a choice that night between my marriage and my career. It was an easy choice, because I dearly love my husband and I value our marriage. He had challenged me to live with integrity.

 When have you experienced a challenge to the priority of your values?

Can You Be an Apathetic Fanatic?

 

If we want to be integrity fanatics, then we have to understand the core components of integrity.  Integrity is defined by Kouzes and Posner as doing what you say you will do.  But I believe there’s a third component to integrity – teaching others to be fanatics. 

 

 Knowing what’s right  

Figuring this out involves some deep soul searching to determine what values are most important to you. Go to www.NancyReece.com to download a free copy of the first chapter of The Dichotomy of Power.  It includes an exercise to help you determine your top five core values personally.  But let’s not stop there.  Businesses should also determine what their key corporate values are, then list those values in order of priority from first to last.  These values become the foundation of future decisions when things get tough.  They are your ‘true north’ compass point for integrity. 

 Doing what’s right  

Once you know what’s right, you make decisions based on those core values.  You make the hard calls despite criticism, heat, and backlash…and you fess up when you mess up.  Facing your failure squarely is critical. 

 Advocating for what’s right 

About half the people I work with have determined their core values.   About 25% of those  consistently work to put those values into action, but very few take the third step to fight for and advocate for what’s right.  That’s the only way we’ll change the world around us – by respectfully taking a stand.  Integrity isn’t just about knowing and doing what’s right, it’s also about teaching others about what’s right.  There’s no place for apathy in the life of a fanatic.   

 How do you teach others to live with integrity?

Be a Super Hero for Integrity

 

Hi! My name is Nancy Reece and I am a self-proclaimed “integrity fanatic”.  Why?  We’ll explore the reasons in more depths in later blogs, but over a 30 year career I’ve learned some lessons about integrity and have become passionate about helping others become fellow fanatics. 

 Lessons about Integrity 

1) Integrity isn’t just about knowing and doing what’s right, it’s also about advocating for what’s right.  There’s no place for apathy in the life of a fanatic.  

 2) Our society has “dumbed down” the concept of integrity.  We willing accept definitions of what’s right that are determined by our culture or peers, instead of doing the hard work of soul searching to define our own integrity.  

 3) Our lowered expectations of integrity foster an attitude of cynicism.  As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else becomes the mantra, but we become hypocrites when we say one thing and do another.  

 4) Integrity is the number one predictor of success – both professionally and personally. 

 5) Early in my career I had flawed concepts of integrity and had to learn some hard lessons.   I also paid the price for taking a stand for what was right.  Both taught me to be an advocate – an integrity fanatic .  

 So join me as I blog about issues of integrity.  I want us to challenge each other to think differently, to learn from each other and to become super heroes for integrity in our circles of influence.