What I Wish I Knew Before Being “Fired”

You’re probably wondering why I put fired in quotes. Well, it wasn’t like Donald Trump on The Apprentice or anything. I didn’t get the nefarious hand gesture. I didn’t get perp-walked down the main hallway with my hands clutching my box. I didn’t get escorted out by security or anything dramatic. I was given a choice which wasn’t really a great choice. I chose the “less-miserable” option.

I was a young director in a community organization. It was tough. Sometimes there were long days. There was turnover every week, it seemed. Staff morale was a challenge and I didn’t know what tools I could use to fix it. It’s tough to fix it when your staff are caught between their own personal struggles and committing to a job which wasn’t paying them a heck of a lot. I had some of the same struggles myself. I had rent to pay, a car payment, living expenses and I wasn’t sure what the next step in my life was going to be. It took a lot of energy every day to live with a smile and yet be challenged with confusion once the sun went down. I did what I needed to do with the staff, but truth be told, the performance of my team really wasn’t inspiring. I didn’t know how to fix it.

One day, I got called into a meeting with my immediate director. It was a long time ago and I don’t remember the subject of the meeting. But, I do remember walking in and being surprised at 3 others being in the room as well…my immediate director (who invited me to the meeting), another VP and the HR guy. (Note: if you get invited to a meeting and HR is there, it’s rarely a good sign…sorry HR people. Hopefully, we can still be friends) There was a round table in the office. But, it felt like I had the interrogation light on me with 3 dark, shadowy figures huddled together behind the table. The HR guy peered through his glasses and told me I had sold them on me at the interview table. However, there were some concerns now about how I was handling my team. The concerns were shared and I was given a chance to respond.

Then it came!!

The offer!

I could stay on and be on a probationary status for the next 3 months or choose to voluntarily terminate my position.

I could feel my heart rate rising from the 200 beats per minute at which I entered the room. I wondered if they could see it coming out of my chest! They stayed fairly still in their chairs so I assume they didn’t. Either that or they were used to seeing hearts flying at them!

This “choice” had quotes around it.

I wish I knew to:

A) Solicit feedback often. I was a bit surprised by the level of this meeting. But, I blame me. I needed to ask questions early and often in order to get the help I needed.

B) Be transparent. Most jobs have a performance component and an emotional component. If you are struggling in any facet, it affects the other. I tried maintain a face where it looked like I had everything under control when I didn’t. I could have shared that earlier. I could have then gotten some help in dealing with my feelings.

C) Get out of my office more. I spent more time at my desk than I should have. Was I working? Yep. This was before Facebook so I didn’t have those internet distractions. But, I could have handed off the spreadsheet creation and other smaller items to someone else. I was working instead of leading. I needed to get out and get more involved with my team.

D) Schmooze. I didn’t understand the value of attending office parties and getting to know the directors and Veeps outside of office hours. Because of this, I didn’t have a personal connection of any sort. It felt creepy and manipulative. In do-over land, would I attend all of the functions? No, but I’d make an appearance or two and have a few more conversations. I learned 10 years later how important it is.

E) Read. Sure, there were office trainings from time to time. However, I didn’t learn more about leadership and being effective. The truth is, at the time, I wasn’t passionate about the job or what I was doing. I was just happy to have a position that paid some money. But, I didn’t invest in finding out how to do my job well and even less in figuring out what the next step would be.

Would knowing and doing these things have kept me from having to make that “choice”? It’s hard to say. But, they certainly would have helped me understand how the world works a bit earlier in life. I would have learned that choices don’t happen in quotes.

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