Difference between fired and fired up
Being sacked is a painful experience. I know, it happened to me once many years ago. Every self-doubt buried away in the crevices of my consciousness exploded like a neutron device. Was it my fault? Where did it go wrong? Why me? Why not Bill down the corridor? It's a conspiracy; I've been made the scapegoat. They won't get away with it.
But before you decide to send that poison-pen letter to all of the staff, suppliers and customers, it is worth noting that if the decision has been made, there is usually no point in fighting it, or becoming bitter. Just live with it and move on. Anecdotal evidence suggests that 60 per cent of all chief executives end up getting fired. The reasons vary. In some cases it is obvious, or at least it should be.
Take the case of the chief executive of a zombie bank, which is entirely reliant on public funds to keep it afloat and pay salaries and bonuses. There are plenty of those around these days and I'd say that Donald Trump's catchphrase, "you're fired!" seems appropriate in that situation. Or take the case of Fritz Henderson, the former chief executive of General Motors (GM) who was fired last month. GM went bankrupt under his watch. It was given a federal lifeline by the Obama administration and the company's reputation suffered.
Part of the problem was that the management team under Mr Henderson had created a mindset that was hard-wired to a certain way of doing things, despite the fact that the landscape around them had changed. GM was losing about US$90 million (Dh330.5m) a day, yet the senior leadership team kept digging themselves into a deeper hole. In most cases, the reasons for senior executives hearing the words "you're fired" is that they have not delivered on the financial results agreed to with the board, and revenue has declined in core areas or brands.
Durk Jager, the former Procter & Gamble chief executive, was fired in 2000 and replaced by AG Lafley, who revived the Cincinnati giant's fortunes by making it relevant once again to customers' lives and broadening the playing field for brands such as Pampers, Crest, Tide and Gillette. Mr Lafley successfully recalibrated the Pampers brand from nappies to parenting products, opening a much wider landscape to operate in.
In other cases, executives may be fired because their personalities and leadership styles have created unhealthy cliques and meddling "kitchen cabinets". I once worked for a chief executive who had formed a fiefdom of direct reports and expected each one of us to behave like competing tribes in a continuing bid to glorify his position. He soon heard the words "you're fired" from the chairman. If you do find yourself dethroned from your lofty position, what next?
According to David Silverman, the author of Typo: The Last American Typesetter, or How I Made and Lost $4 Million, there are basically two options. "One, locate a supporter who is higher up than the person who got you fired," Silverman says. "The supporter may have their own scores to settle with the firing manager or their boss, and the uncalled-for firing of you could be just the thing they were waiting for to exact their revenge. I've seen this playing of the political trump card work more than once. The second option is to take the firing with grace, get as good a severance package as possible, and go look for a new job. It's the high road, and likely the only road."
Brian Allen, a leadership coach based in Dubai, has managed a number of exits for people whose work title begins with the word "chief". "The advised approach is to support the person through their reactions," Mr Allen says. This helps them focus and to move on as quickly as possible. Dignity and reputation should always be a priority. "Coded explanations are quickly understood and interpreted by employees, potential employees and clients. People want to know that the right thing was done when the going got tough."
Mr Allen says that most "failures" he has seen come from organisational direction changes, misalignment of strengths, relationship failures with key stakeholders and failure to deliver on objectives. Being fired, especially if everyone you know in the organisation knows about your exit and particularly if they know before you know, can affect confidence and determine what you do next. Silverman suggests there are several factors that seem consistent in those who thrive after failure, including the fact that they do not take it personally and therefore do not lose confidence in their abilities and their willingness to take opportunities, no matter how far afield from previous success.
"Think of Gordon Ramsay: he was on track to be a professional football player in Scotland when injury sidelined him. He remade himself and became one of the most famous chefs in the world," he says. "Focusing on what could have been and what others have achieved makes people small and mean. Focusing on what one can do next makes for success. And finally [failure survivors have] an acceptance that failure can happen at any time, so there should be no resting on past accomplishments."
I suppose we should wish good fortune to all those who have lost their positions and it's an apt time to quote once more the teachings of the 12th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam: "Life is short. Enjoy yourself while you can. Stop worrying". Rehan Khan is a consultant and writer based in Dubai @Email:email@example.com
Published: January 11, 2010 04:00 AM