How Leaders Know When NOT To Say "You’re Fired"

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By: Gregg Dedrick, Co-Founder & President of David Novak Leadership

How would you finish this sentence? Leadership is _______. There are lots of words you could use to complete this sentence.
  • Leadership is challenging.
  • Leadership is controlling things.
  • Leadership is serving others.
  • Leadership is directing others.
I believe leadership is a privilege. As a leader, you have been given the honor and responsibility of leading others. You were chosen to lead because at some point you demonstrated the skill, ability and potential to lead others. When people are looking for you to help them succeed, it becomes your responsibility to coach them to be the best they can be. At David Novak Leadership, we teach that leaders need to engage, equip and elevate the people they lead so they can make a bigger impact.
be your best self leadership guideOne reason I believe leadership is a privilege is because it places you in a position of authority. With your authority, you have the ability to help those you lead succeed or fail. You have the power to create a positive or negative work environment. You also have the authority to make people decisions that can launch or derail careers. You have the privilege of making decisions that impact those you lead, and that’s a big responsibility.
You may not view your leadership role as a privilege when faced with tough people decisions. While I’ve learned it’s important to make these tough decisions, I also know that with this privilege comes the responsibility to be both thoughtful and deliberate when people’s careers are on the line.
The Leadership Privilege Challenge
Let me tell you about a time where I was faced with a tough people decision. In this situation, I was ready to take action quickly, and I’m thankful I was encouraged to be a Heartwired Leader™ when I didn’t feel like it.
Whenever I go into a new leadership situation, I always look for the person that everybody wants fired and then I fire him or her. I’ve found that the best way to show people that things are going to be different is to get rid of the person who is difficult to be around, who is not displaying the values of the company, and who is not the kind of person you are looking for in terms of leadership. Doing so really gets people’s attention and says things are going to be different from now on.
When I became president of KFC, I was looking for that person to fire, and it didn’t take me long to find him. There was a CFO who was so focused on making the profit plan, he proposed cost cuts at every opportunity, and people were sick of it. Every meeting, he’d come in with another cost-cutting idea – we should remove all the color from our packaging or get rid of the bacon in our green beans – and then he’d tell everyone exactly how much money that one cut would save us. He was cutting costs that affected our customer value proposition when the real issue was lack of sales growth. Expense management is a good thing, but not at the expense of customers. I felt like he was maniacally focused on the wrong thing when my message to the organization was we had to grow sales. While he was a good enough guy, everyone thought he was going overboard on the wrong thing.
Wayne Calloway, the late chairman of PepsiCo, came to town shortly after I started the job to check on our progress. Over dinner, I told him about this guy who I really wanted to fire. “He’s so focused on the wrong things”, I told Wayne, “he’s always looking for ways to cut costs rather than build value. I just can’t stand that about him.”
Wayne asked me, “Does he know how you feel?” “No, but I want to fire him anyway,” I replied, only half-jokingly.
Wayne, who was a very wise man, said, “Well, before you do that, why don’t you give him a chance to change. I know your CFO. He’s ambitious. I think he’ll respond to some direct feedback.” I was sure Wayne was wrong, but I calmed myself down and decided to do as he suggested. First thing the next morning, I marched into the CFO’s office and told him I had a problem with his attitude, giving him several specific examples of what I meant. And then I said, “If you’re going to stay here, I want you to wake up every morning and look in the mirror and say to yourself, as if you have it stamped on your forehead, ‘I am Mr. Growth.’ I want you focused on growing this company so we don’t have to cut back on what we’re offering our customers.”
You know what? He did it. He made a complete transformation from Mr. Cost Cutter to Mr. Growth. He really got behind our recognition program, for example, and even developed a method to expand it so it worked better, not just in management, but at the store level. Besides that, he and I became really good friends, which we are to this day. By the way, he went on to become the CEO of a major company and the Chairman of world class boards, which gives me great pride. He obviously became “Mr. Growth” in personal development as well, which constantly reminds me of the power of coaching.
I still believe in replacing people who are getting in the way of progress, but you need to be a coach first, before you can make the right call. Otherwise, you might find that you’ve made a huge mistake.
I’m thankful that Wayne shared his thoughts with me and that I chose to take his advice rather than going with my gut reaction to fire the CFO. Leadership is a privilege and I had the power to impact this CFO’s career in a negative way by firing him because I was the leader. Since I had Wayne help me with my decision making, the CFO had an opportunity to change and I learned a valuable lesson on giving people a chance to change. This made a positive difference in my life and the CFO’s life.
Leadership is YOUR Privilege
Do you consider leadership to be your privilege? Do you have others in your life to help you make wise decisions when your gut is telling you to react? Do people know you care about them? Do you create passionate commitment among those you lead?
Just making one change to your leadership style can have a positive impact. I get it that you might be afraid to change, and Bill Gates gets it too. Gates said, “People always fear change. People feared electricity when it was invented, didn’t they?” Don’t let fear stop you from changing. What is one thing you want to do differently as a leader to make a positive impact on your team? Download this guide to help you discover how to adopt a leadership is a privilege mindset. You never know what positive outcomes may occur because you’re willing to make changes to become the best leader you can be!
One way to lead others is by sharing what you learn. Did you learn something today? Who else would benefit from reading this blog? Take a moment to pay it forward by sharing these resources with others today. Go Lead!

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