3 Reasons We Don’t Fire Poor Performers

three wise monkeys

What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in the area of leading people?

The number one answer, according to a report by Ram Charan, Consultant and former Harvard Business School professor, is “waiting too long to remove a direct report who wasn’t matched to the job.”

I made that mistake as a first time manager at the YMCA. I had a swim instructor who was wonderful and got rave reviews from all the parents, but he had a reliability problem. The YMCA was in Bloomington, IN during the reign of Bobby Knight, and you could count on the fact that anytime there was a basketball game or a concert, he wouldn’t show up for lifeguarding shifts. I gave him lots of chances before I finally let him go. When I did, the other staff all thought my boss had prevented me from firing him. That wasn’t the case. The reluctance to fire him was my fault. I lacked the managerial courage to do what needed to be done.

There are three reasons that we justify not firing people who aren’t a fit.

  1. I can fix them. We rationalize that with enough coaching, or discussions, or encouragement, they’ll turn it around. While that is a noble approach, it soon becomes apparent when they can’t be “fixed”.
  2. Better the devil I know than the one I don’t. This was my reasoning. It was hard to find great instructors, so I lived with his faults until I got too frustrated. I was afraid I wouldn’t find anyone as good at teaching as he was. That fear should have been a clue – and has now become a sign that I need to step back and reflect on the situation.
  3. He/she isn’t really hurting the team. I can also own this one. I didn’t understand the negative impact his behavior and my failure to hold him accountable was having on my team. Once the young man was released, team morale improved over time. Staff began to trust that everyone would be held accountable – equally.

Leaders of integrity set high expectations, work with staff to achieve those expectations, and hold ALL staff accountable for their work. They also quickly move to replace people who aren’t a fit, and they hire someone who has a high level of competence, character, and interpersonal skills.

As a first time manager, that lesson about holding employees accountable was a powerful one and has paid huge benefits in every position I’ve held since then.

  • How’s your managerial courage?
  • Is there one or more of these three reasons holding you back from doing what you know must be done?

The Seduction of Power

The John Edwards trial has produced some interesting testimony, none more so than Andrew Young, the ex-aide who said the lure of power caused him to claim he was the father of Edward’s baby with his mistress.    “Being friends with the most powerful person on earth – there are benefits to that”.    Pride and power are seductive.  They are beasts you think you can ride, but they suddenly turn  devour you.   Young made a choice to lie, to assist in a cover up – all in the hopes of gaining influence and power from a man who might be President.

If he had stopped in the moment and asked the question – what are the consequences of this choice? – he might not have agreed to the cover up.  A well played game of “what if” can keep you from succumbing to the lure of lust, greed, or power.  Just imagine what would happen if you got caught.  What would you have to say to your family?  What would the headline in tomorrow’s paper be?  Had Andrew Young played ‘what if’ when he was asked to play a part in the cover up , he might have imagined the headline “Edwards Ex-Aide Says Power was Motivation.”  Write the headline that might appear if your choice to purse power got the better of you.  What would happen to your family, your business, and your friendships?  Would you be in prison?  Financially ruined?   A well-thought through session of “what if” can make real the potential consequences of falling prey to a lack of integrity.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”   Even more thought provoking, the Bible says: “Be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23)  That came true for both John Edwards and Andrew Young.

Power, character, and integrity are a rare combination.  Which ones can you claim?

Honor & Respect vs. You Suck

My husband and I stopped at a restaurant on the way to Indiana last week.  While we were eating, we saw a man sitting at a nearby table wearing a black T-shirt with huge yellow letters declaring to the world “YOU SUCK”.   It seemed to be a statement on how many people view others these days.  Instead of respecting and honoring one another, we get in their face and disrespect them.

Respect is showing regard for the worth of someone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, faith or sexual orientation.  Respect doesn’t diminish a person for any reason.  The best description of respect that I’ve ever heard came from Dave Buehring, founder and CEO of Lionshare Leadership.  He says there are three reasons we honor and respect one another.

1) Honor and respect due to performance – we earn this and recognize what a person has done or achieved.

2) Honor due to character and integrity – this is also earned and recognizes who the person is in character and that can be trusted to do what they say they will do

3) Honor and respect due to a person’s intrinsic value and worth.  This respect is given and not earned.  It recognizes each human being’s worth in the sight of God.  Because we are made in His image, and have had the priceless blood of Jesus shed for them, they are worth of honor and respect.*

What a different viewpoint from “You Suck”.   The truth is all people matter, no matter what.  What a different place our world would be if we practiced respect and honor.  Who lives this better than anyone you know – who shows honor, courtesy, respect to everyone in their life?

*Information in italics was adapted from the writings of Dave Buehring

How to Say Yes & Honor your Word


I had the opportunity to spend time last week with Linda Grajewski, the founder of a ministry called Gaits to Heaven.  She works with the Lakota people on the reservation in North Dakota.  By using horses to create bonds between the women and children of the reservation and the volunteers, they experience first hand the love of Jesus, gain skills that will enable them to set a new direction for their lives, and have hope for the future.   ( http://gaitstoheaven.org/ )  As we discussed her ministry, her vision, and her needs, she talked about the challenge of fund raising.

 Raising funds as a not-for-profit is difficult as the best of times.    Linda told me that she never counts a donation on paper until she has the check in hand, because so many times people don’t follow through with their word to give.   That’s simply a lack of integrity. 

Integrity is about honoring our word.  Once we’ve given that word, not honoring it breaks trust and leaves us with a reputation we don’t want.  It is always better to carefully consider whether we can honor our word BEFORE we give it.  If we feel we’d be unable to follow through on the commitment, then we shouldn’t make the promise.  Once we’ve given our word, anything less than following through, lacks integrity. 

 This insight has caused me to change how often I say yes.  I think hard before I commit to attending an event or meeting.  I ask myself how I will feel about following through on the commitment before I say yes.  The result:  I say no more often.  I also honor my word more consistently.

Why We Should Select Leaders Using the Three C’s


The character of leadership is built one moment, one truth, one action at a time. It isn’t about the big public displays, but the private character that inevitably shines through in those public moments. It’s about thinking of others as more important than ourselves, faithfulness in our relationship with God and those closest to us, integrity, kindness, and honor. What small things do you need to pay attention to in your life?” 

This was Monday’s Lead Like Jesus (www.LeadLikeJesus.com) devotional.  It hit in the early morning after I had watched a morning news show about Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina.  It was interesting to see that only 6% of the voters in South Carolina thought he had strong character, and yet he won 40% of the vote.  It’s a trend I’ve seen over the last several years in elections.  The person who wins doesn’t always have the best competence and character in the race, but they often have the most chemistry.  The three C’s – character, competence, and chemistry – are the foundations for any selection of employees, elected officials, or leaders.  First we screen for character and competence, then we see if the chemistry is the right fit for our company, church, or country.  We’ve been getting it backwards.  Gingrich says he’s had a change of heart and learned from failure.  But the question is – who has the better history of making the little decisions that are of such  infinite importance. Character counts (www.charactercounts.org)

 “Good and evil both increase at compound interest.  That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.”    -C.S. Lewis

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Being an Integrity Fanatic

Let’s start with the ugly.  I recently had a lapse in integrity – and was challenged on it by a neighbor –because I branded myself as the Integrity Fanatic.  He was right and it was painful.  At the same time, we’re all human and none of us is perfect.  It’s about whether we make amends and fix our bad choices that enables us to live out our commitment to integrity.  I had made a poor choice and voluntarily confessed and tried to make amends.  Unfortunately, he believed that as the Integrity Fanatic I should never, ever make a mistake.   That’s the ugly – unrealistic expectations.

Next is the bad.  It’s the word fanatic.  It means a person with extreme zeal – so I believe it defines who I am around integrity fairly well. But depending on which generation you are in, being a fanatic can be bad.  For the oldest generation in our society – born before 1945 – the word fanatic means passionately crazy – in other words, out of control.  And being out of control isn’t something they value.  I actually knew this when I picked the name, I just didn’t realize how prevalent the dislike would be in that generation. That’s the bad – there’s a group of people who simply don’t relate to the idea I’m trying to convey.

Finally, the good.  Calling myself an integrity fanatic has made me hold myself to a higher standard.  I was recently in line to enter a club with a cover charge – famous for it’s dueling pianos.  As I struck up a conversation with another person in line, she invited me to use the special entry word for the birthday party being held upstairs and save on the cover charge.  I found myself seriously considering it – and then remembering that wasn’t an option.  Similar challenges happen more often than I expected.   So while I could beat myself up for not having the right first response, I know that being an integrity fanatic has set a higher moral compass for me.  And that’s the good.

Integrity Forks in the Road*


There will always be decisions you have to make based on situations you face.  Having integrity of heart – wholeness in following God’s call on our lives – helps you make the right decisions and take actions that align with Jesus teaching.

Take a moment and read the account of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz in the Bible (Book of Ruth). Talk about a fork in the road! You and your family move to another country, then your husband dies. Not long after that, your two sons also die and you are left with two widowed daughters-in-law. So you pack up and move back to your homeland, and you encourage your daughters-in-law to return to their country since they would have no hope of marrying again if they stayed with you. One returns and the other—Ruth—chooses to stay with you. Ruth, in essence, says, “Even it if it costs me my future, I will do the right thing—I will not leave you”.  How hard it must have been for Ruth to leave her homeland, go to a strange country, and follow a God she did not know. But because of the testimony of Naomi’s integrity of heart, Ruth did so.

            Boaz also had a choice. He had heard all that Ruth had done for Naomi, and he praised her for it. Boaz was a redeemer—a close member of the family who, in that culture, could marry and redeem (or save) Ruth. But there was a closer relative who could have redeemed Ruth, so Boaz went to him and offered both Ruth and the land Naomi was selling. When that relative would not risk his own inheritance by redeeming Ruth and the land, Boaz became the redeemer.

            Boaz called Ruth a woman of character and eventually married her. Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz led with integrity of heart. They knew God and did what was right in His eyes. Ruth was rewarded for her faith and integrity, as God placed her in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

What integrity fork in the road are you facing today?  How will you lead with integrity of heart?

*excerpt from The Dichotomy of Power, by Nancy Reece

 * originally written for www.LeadLikeJesus.com/blogs

Savvy & Skill vs. Character & Integrity

Setting for the Sermon on the Mount

As I mentioned in my last blog, one of my favorite thought leaders is Dan Webster.  Dan has a workbook called The Real Deal – Becoming More Authentic and Life and Leadership.  I’ve lead teams through it and done it personally 3 times over a twelve year period.  It has had a deep and profound effect on how I lead and who I am.  One of my favorite thoughts from Dan is this one:

“Am I impacting people because they admire my leadership savvy and skills or are they impacted by my character and the beauty of my soul?”

 When I first read that question, it had a huge impact on me – making me think and reflect on whether I had substituted image for character and integrity.  While I certainly want my teaching, coaching and consulting to have an impact, I realize that I want my character and integrity to be at the forefront.  I want the larger impact of my life to be because I truly loved and respected others, valuing the dignity of all – because I lived, loved and Lead Like Jesus.

When a Mistake isn’t a Mistake


The press conference of Rep.  Weiner was painful to listen to.  His heartfelt apology made it clear he was taking responsibility for the actions he has admitted to taking.  Unfortunately, his choice of words left much to be desired as he called his actions a mistake.  As he continued to talk, it became clear to me he either didn’t know the difference between a mistake and a poor choice – or he’d chosen to use the word ‘mistake” to make his actions sound less serious. 

 Do you know the difference between a mistake and a poor choice?    A mistake is an error, misunderstanding, or misinterpretation.  We make a mistake when we don’t have enough information to do right.   A poor choice occurs when we have enough information to know what not to do(or should know) and do it anyway.  While we need to take responsibility for both mistakes and poor choices, there’s a lot more impact on our character as the result of a poor choice.

Mistake Poor Choice
Bad math on my tax return Choosing not to report income
Misunderstand what you said Choosing to ignore what you said
Stepping wrong off the curb Ignoring the walk signal
  Posting a lewd picture on Twitter
  Taking funds from my employer
  Slamming someone on Facebook

 Many years ago I chose to call in sick instead of teaching a class.  It was a very poor choice and I learned a hard lesson.   I had made a poor choice and I paid a price.  But I also learned something about integrity. 

 How would you define a poor choice ?

Life Lessons at the Masters

Rory McIlroy, 21 years old, let the Masters Golf tournament in Augusta for 63 holes.  On the 10th hole of the final round, his ball hit a tree and landed between two cabins.  From that point on, McIlroy’s round of golf looked like my usual round of golf – which wasn’t good.  He went from the leading to a tie for 15th in 9 short holes.

 In his interview at the end of the tournament, McIlroy commented “Hopefully it will build a little bit of character in me”.  That’s a lot of insight for a 21 year old. 

 Our character and integrity are formed in the crucible of failure.  We learn about ourselves, we learn to master fear, we learn that the screw ups won’t keep us down, and we work hard not to make the same mistake.  While sports writers like Jeff MacGregor speculate on his future,  http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/commentary/news/story?id=6329147,

I believe McIlrory will develop a mental toughness as a result of this that will only make him a greater golfer.

 My big failures, while I would never want to repeat them, have given me some of the most important lessons in life.  To persevere, to live with integrity, and to serve others. 

 What have you learned from failure?