How do you let someone go?

Hi.  You’re not right for me.  This isn’t going to work because of a, b, and c.  Even more so now that you’ve just committed d.  Here’s a feel better package, but after that you need to leave.  Simply put, you’re fired. 

There’s no easy way to say it.  Whether you’re ending a business or personal relationship, your message is as clear as, “We are not a match.  You are not helping me, and I am not helping you.  Please leave.”

In my time serving on MPowered’s executive team, one of the deepest and lasting learning experiences has been in learning when to let go–if at all.  Whether it’s a peer, a fellow leader, or friend, it never gets any easier.  But there’s certainly ways to make the road a little less rocky, and taste a little more like mint chocolate chip.

  • Leave the emotions at home.  Tensions are high.  Emotions are the last thing this recipe for disaster needs.  Be cognizant of your body language, your tone, and most importantly, your volume.  It’s in our nature to mirror the person across from us, and once things have escalated, there’s no turning back.  
  • Use specific examples.  Be ready to refer to specific straws that have broken the camel’s back.  Avoid accusations, and instead point to ways that the person on the other end has broken your contract, agreement, or collaboration.  Facts will have never seemed so friendly, and instead of fingerpointing with “You did x” or “You didn’t understand y,” speak for yourself!  Try “I feel that when you did x” or “I think you didn’t understand y.”  
  • Anticipate reactions.  You can never fully prepare yourself for the reaction on the other end, but it doesn’t hurt to empathize.  There’s no reason to be unnecessarily harsh or meek if that’s not either yours or his/her style.  Be deliberate in your delivery.
  • Keep it in person, not on paper…or print!  Two words: email forwarding.  Sound scary?  It is.
  • Short, sweet, and safe.  Concise, to-the-point statements will carry you through, and lessen the pain for both sides of the table.  Now’s not the time for long-winded goodbyes, or a recap of an annual performance report.  Focus on the issues at hand and what has provoked this act.  
  • End on a positive note.  It’s over.  Why scold, nag, or be upset?  After all, this is a person you’ve worked with, and at least at one point (if not still) enjoyed being around!  Have a heart.  We all do.  And you never know when you’ll cross paths again. 

In most cases, be sure to come in with a decision already made.  Stick to your gut, always remember why, and don’t trip on the way over.

At the end of the day, this should be your very last resort.  Letting people go not only distorts your team dynamic, it also sets you back in performance and transitioning is certainly no easy feat–both emotionally and at work.  

Better yet–this can be easily steered clear of!  Set expectations early (even better if they’re in writing), and always check in!  Great collaboration is a two-way street, requiring signals and movement from both ends.

Great leadership is not about control or delegation.  It’s about inspiring the team, laying a foundation of common ground, common goals, and a united mission to build, create, and innovate.