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Don't Be Afraid of Being Fired

Early in one of my headships, things were not going well. Teachers were upset about the direction I was taking the school, parents sensed some of the teacher’s unease and worried that the school was losing its family feel. The board, meanwhile, was concerned about a potential decline in enrollment.

Given the tension in the air, I was beginning to wonder how long the board would want to keep me around. To ensure my continued employment, I began to think about easing back on the changes that I thought were so critical for the school’s long term success.

It was at this point that I got two of the most important pieces of leadership advice I have ever received. “If you live in fear of being fired, you will never accomplish big things.” “Besides, my advisor continued, “they need you more than you need them.” I want to talk about each piece of advice in turn.

Employees tend to like things the way they are; not because the current situation is necessarily good but because the current situation is comfortable. Any change is scary; it threatens the status quo. An unsaid credo of most employees and people for that matter--”better the devil you know.”

As a result, leaders who are looking to make any material changes—and every leader worth her salt will strive to make changes—are going to face pushback. The response to that pushback is critical to a leader’s success.

Ironically, if the pushback causes a leader to slow the change she has initiated, she is less likely to be seen as a dynamic leader. Conversely, a leader who pushes through the pushback humanely and transparently is seen as a leader with a vision and confidence. Teams are looking for courageous leaders, not those looking for safety.

Courageous leaders are not afraid of being fired. They are more interested in seeing their vision come to fruition. Teams grant respect to vision centered leaders.

This brings me to the second great piece of advice—they need you more than you need them. Leaders, particularly humble ones, struggle to believe this; yet it is true for most leaders.

Good leaders are difficult to find; inculcating leaders into the organization’s culture is time consuming and not always successful; having a leader with strategic vision is critical to success. Companies do not want to train a new leader understanding the time, money and risk involved. (This may be why so many mediocre leaders remain in their role way too long.) Good leaders should recognize these realities and realize it is true that they need you more than you need them.

Adding to the truth of the above, companies know that good leaders can find other jobs rather easily and realize that leaders will leave unless they get support from the company. Thus smart companies realize they need leaders more than leaders need them.

Leaders who are not looking over their shoulder for the ax can spend that time looking forward. Companies need forward looking leaders and will reward them with long tenures.


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