When someone is fired, it's a traumatic experience for everyone involved. Having to fire someone is tough, but being on the other end of the situation is when it is really stressful. With all that's been happening in the economy, we have all experienced the pain of layoffs. Some call it rightsizing or downsizing, but those are just euphemisms for a lot of people losing their jobs.
One of the most bizarre stories I have heard about was a human resources director with a medium-sized company who had to lay off some 20 people in two days, only to find out that she was also targeted for firing. She was incredulous when it happened and you cannot blame her for being bitter. Then there was the senior vice president of a Fortune 500 company who had to wipe out several departments in three days. He told me it was one of the most exhausting experiences he had ever had. He would start each day's round of pink slips at 7 a.m. and go to 6 p.m. He had a script and human resources had files organized for him so that all he had to do was say a few words and then go on to the next person. He told me he would never do it again and that at the end of the blood bath he was exhausted both mentally and physically. I visit with this fellow every once in a while, and he is still haunted by the experience.
And the beat goes on. There are many talented individuals who are losing their jobs for no reason other than the company has to put its financial house in order so that it can survive. Thank goodness the economy seems to be picking up and that we can again welcome the good times.
I bring this topic up because I believe that people in our industry need to keep things in perspective if they are asked to leave-for whatever reason. This definitely includes key officers of any company or organization. I'll tell you a couple of stories to make my point.
Some time back someone I know was fired from his job as the president of a large healthcare system. We aren't best friends, but whenever we got together we always seem to hit it off. He has two great kids and his wife is a lovely lady. But suddenly here he was, out on his ear, and he was calling to ask if he could drop by to talk things over. Naturally, I told him I would be delighted to see him. From our brief phone call I could tell he was crushed by what had happened and was hoping I could bolster his morale. When he stopped by, he said he hadn't heard from a lot of his friends because "they probably don't know what to say." So I asked him whom he had heard from recently. He ticked off five names, including mine. I told him that those were his true friends and that he probably wasn't going to hear from too many more people because they were what I call front-runners. Those are the kind of people who tell you how wonderful you are when you are on top but desert you when things go bad. He was startled by what I had to say and I know he really didn't believe me.
I also told him this: In the future he would make more money than he had at the job he had just lost and that he would find peace of mind because he has a great attitude and is a tireless worker. I told him that was a winning combination and that he should forget all about the past and get on with his life and become as successful as I knew he would be. I also told him to hold no grudges and not dwell on what had occurred. He wanted to go into consulting, and I told him he was on the right track because everybody would want to work with him because of his integrity and honesty. He left my office somewhat dazed and not quite believing in the pep talk I had given him. One year later he called me to tell me how right I had been and that he was having more fun and making more money than he had ever dreamed he would make. He went on to say his wife was happier as well because he was so much more relaxed.
The very same scenario played out a few months later in my office when the chief executive officer of a major pharmaceutical firm was fired. He, too, was downcast and despondent. He, too, had not heard from a lot of his supposed friends, and I gave him the same talk I had given to my other friend. This executive was just as surprised by what I had to say. And sure enough, he called back a few months later to thank me for waking him up.
Don't fool yourself. This could easily happen to you. I have many friends who were CEOs at some of the top healthcare organizations in the country when unexpectedly the ax fell. They were devastated. They blamed the board, their colleagues, physicians and a lot of other people and they wallowed in self-pity before they got on with their lives. Life is a gamble, and if you are a leader you also know there are no guarantees in life. What really matters is your attitude, how you handle adversity even when it means you are fired from the top job. Only once have I ever seen a former healthcare CEO fall on his face again after being fired. It's a matter of putting things in perspective and getting on with one's life. I know it isn't quite that simple but that's really the gist of it. If you are in good health, smart and enjoy challenges and hard work, there is no way you can fail. I guarantee it!
It brings to mind something theologian Charles Swindoll penned some time ago: "Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past ... we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes."