Leaders: Make This Mistake

March 29, 2021
3 min read
John Neary

A Mistake Many Leaders Make Is Tolerating A Jerk Employee Longer Than They Should.

You finally fired a troublesome employee. You feel relieved. You wish you had done it earlier. You ask yourself why you didn't. You chalk the mistake up to experience and you try to move forward.

Waiting too long to let a dysfunctional employee go is a common misstep on the path to building a great team. I've made this mistake, and the relief I felt after finally making the right decision for my organization at the time helped teach me the importance of objective compassion.

Letting someone go from any job should not be taken lightly. It is a process, not a decision. The resulting action ultimately requires a careful balance of compassion and assertiveness. As a leader you need to demonstrate an awareness of emotions while maintaining a willingness to drive accountability through facts and data.

Once you have given a person every opportunity to succeed, it's your job as a leader to hold them to a clear standard and part ways if that standard simply can't be met. Retaining a dysfunctional employee isn't good for anyone:


Dysfunction (exhibited through poor team behaviors) is often a sign of unhappiness for the employee in question. If they are unhappy at work, they simply may not fit in to your culture and may thrive elsewhere. Try to work with them to identify the root cause of their behaviors. Give them a chance to change and make it clear what you expect.


When a dysfunctional team member is tolerated it is often seen as a sign of what the company truly values. If your core values say you reward 'teamwork' yet you allow a team member to consistently treat others poorly, then guess what . . . youdon't value teamwork and employees will lose respect for you and your organization. Make sure the behaviors your tolerate are aligned with the values your company stands for.


Let's face it. When you retain a troublesome employee, you're sending a message to the team that you ultimately accept behaviors that you shouldn't accept. You're settling, and that can be seen as a sign of weakness. Your credibility as a leader is diminished and the team's ability to deliver their best work is depleted. No one wins.

It's hard to let someone go, or to think about any personnel situation that looks like it may end up with a potential firing. Don't worry. Lots of people have dealt with this challenge successfully. Partner with a leader in your organization who is experienced at building great teams and at making tough people decisions. You'll find that if you tough people decisions can ultimately improve your team and your ability to lead if you handle them correctly. Don't wait too long . . . Do the right thing for the employee, their team, and yourself as the leader.

None of this means that you should fire someone immediately, it means you should start an assertive, compassionate and objective process sooner. That process may lead to termination and if that happens you will be able to say that you handled the situation with true objective compassion . . . something every leader should be able to say:

1.     Set clear measurable expectations,

2.     Hold objective checkpoint meetings to review progress,

3.     Agree on a defined (reasonable) timeline to bring the issue to some resolution,

4.     Show the employee that you want them to succeed but will ultimately do what's best for everyone if they can't.

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John Neary
John is the founder of Right Workplace and maintains heavy involvement in the Company to this day. He has a passion for workplace culture, and the benefits a healthy culture can bestow on professionals everywhere.

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