The touchy subject of being fired gets extensive treatment in the July/August issue of The Physician Executive, the official journal of the American College of Physician Executives.
In half a dozen articles, the authors have done a commendable job of covering the ins and outs of being given the hook. Being fired is certainly not pleasant, no matter how it's packaged or how much the severance is. Being fired leaves you with a sense of failure, and that hits most of us where it hurts, in the soul. When someone is fired, families, friends and colleagues also can be affected.
Although too many executives somehow think firing someone shows courage and focus, to me firing someone is too often a cowardly act by an individual or organization. New hires are given minimal training and then released to do a job without really being sure how to perform the tasks. Those who hire people need to give their employees plenty of training and stay with them until they are very comfortable in their jobs.
Recently I met with a group of physician executives, most of whom were chief medical officers at prestigious hospitals and medical groups. Most of them said they have never seen a job description that spells out what their jobs entail. Others do have job descriptions, but they are not based on reality. They find themselves involved in things that aren't covered by any job outline.
So my advice to any physician executive is this. When stepping into a new job, insist that your employer let you know exactly what is expected of you on a day-to-day basis. I don't care how high up the ladder you are or how much you earn. No one can do a job properly unless they know what is expected of them. Actually they are setting themselves up for being terminated.
Another aspect of being fired is fallout among friends and colleagues. One CEO of a major healthcare system came into my office soon after his firing. He took off his jacket and settled down for a chat. You could tell he was still in shock from his termination, and I asked him who he had heard from. He said that he had heard from three or four people but that a lot of his friends hadn't called him because he was sure they didn't know what to say. I told him he had heard from his real friends. The others were what I call front runners--people who befriend you when you're on top but blend into the woodwork when you come off the pedestal. I see it all the time.
A few weeks after this incident, I saw the scenario repeat itself when a good friend of mine who was the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company came to visit me. He too had been fired and was still in shock. He too had heard from only four or five people and wondered where his other friends were. I explained my theory and he was taken aback. But that's the reality of being an executive.
There can be a silver lining to the dark cloud of firing, if we can believe consultants and headhunters. Being fired from any job, they say, can be a growing experience. Many of us at some time in our careers have been fired and survived, grown and become even more successful. The two gentlemen I've mentioned both have started their own businesses, made more money than they ever dreamed and are thankful they were canned from their previous jobs.
Charles S. Lauer Publisher