WHY FIRE PEOPLE THIS WAY?
There are zillions of stories about former FBI Director James Comey these days, but we haven’t seen one yet analyzing the method used to fire him. That is what LR/ER practitioners on both sides of the table should be studying for some lessons learned. Comey was a long-term, high level, well-respected official with a long string of achievements and friends in government. He was an organizational star by any measure, although hardly politically perfect. When it is time to remove people like that from their jobs there is a well-known routine in Washington that permits them to leave with dignity and avoid creating an enemy for life. The person doing the firing has the integrity and class to tell them to their face, they are given some formal award or recognition, perhaps even given or promised another job, and sent away with best wishes that they can spend more time with their family after sacrificing so much over the years. But all too often the person doing the firing does not have the guts to tell their Comey to their face they have to leave, and that creates the blowback folks in the ER/LR business should help organizations avoid. Comey learned about his termination very publicly via a CNN news streamer while conducting everyday business with his staff. He not only was hit with it the news out of the blue, but in clear conflict with the expectation that he would serve a ten-year term. On top of that, the person who fired him put out lies about Comey’s leadership. It is looking more and more like Comey was fired because he was unwilling to go along with some very pointed “suggestions” that he do something illegal or that would damage his organization for a long time. That is not an unusual aspect of terminations of high level achievers in any organization. But we have an additional theory about these kinds of firings. The person doing the firing is often jealous about all the contacts and skills his or her Comey has—perhaps even worried that will diminish s/he being considered the star of the show. These situations just shout volumes about an enormous lack of self-worth among the people doing the firing for this theory to be too far wrong.
As a result, the firing of Jim Comey has probably created a lifelong enemy not just for the President, but also his former colleagues around the President who did not have the courage to stop him. We are not saying that the President lacked the right to fire Comey. Our point is that it could have been done very differently and professionally with almost no effort at all and have saved the President and his organization from who knows what lies down the road as Comey seeks to even the score. Yes, it is inevitable that people like Comey walk out the door telling themselves not to get angry, but get even—something we learned from an old UConn football player.
Comey isn’t the only person to get unceremoniously dumped by a spineless, insecure CEO worried far more about themselves than what it will cost the organization. We have seen these fired SES official’s pushed out by new political administrations feed union leaders bundles of information and strategy tips to undermine the folks who did the firing.
So, on the chance that you are ever in a position to advise the person doing the terminating about how to off-load your organization’s Jim Comey try to get them to focus on what is best for the organization in the long run, not just for their cowardly essence. Fair deals beget fair dealing and screw jobs inevitably lead to trouble when a Comey is involved. We can’t wait to read his book, follow the media stories from tips they mysteriously get about the President’s behavior, or watch him testify repeatedly in Congress opposing one White House legislative initiative after another.