Let Team Members Go With Grace

How to ensure your employees, leaving on their own or being fired, leave well and maintain their dignity.

Excerpted From
Start With Your People
By Brian Dixon

When someone leaves your team, your church, your email list, your whatever, wish them well. Cheer for their success. In many industries I consult in, one of the largest challenges that leaders face is employee turnover. The team you have is likely to change frequently. People are constantly changing jobs or needing to be let go. If we start with our people, then we let them go with grace. Whether they decide to quit or you need to fire them, what can you do to let them go with grace? How can you help them maintain their dignity in the process?

I once had an incredible intern. I would have loved to work with her forever. I coached her, mentored her and encouraged her, and she ended up resigning, getting another job and pursuing other opportunities. Here’s the thing: She has referred clients to me time and time again. I look back on our time together and say, “I’m really glad I invested in her.” That’s how you should treat your team. Treat your team like you want to be treated. You can’t hold on to your team forever. Be excited for their success, even if that means they leave you.

One of the first years of our school, we had a teacher who was becoming increasingly frustrated. Issues at home were beginning to leak into her work. And she had come to resent the work she was doing. It got back to me from students that she was planning on quitting and making a big scene. After confirming that this was true, I knew I had to let her go immediately.

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Instead of bringing her into my office and lambasting her, telling her all the horrible things that she was doing, I invited her out for coffee. We walked to a nearby coffee shop, and I asked her about her dreams. “What got you into education in the first place? What is it you love about being a teacher?” And we had an amazing conversation.

For more than an hour, I got to listen to what she really wanted out of life. And honestly, so much of my impression of her changed during that conversation. But I still had to let her go.

Over our second cup of cappuccino, I said, “I do have some bad news. Unfortunately, this needs to be your last day.”

I expected her to lash out. Or maybe to burst into tears. Or worse, to finally say all of the words she had been holding in.

Instead her response was calm and measured. “I know.”

We walked back to the school, sharing funny stories about our students. There was no bitterness. No fear. Just acknowledgment.

Even having to fire someone can be done with a people-first mindset. I’m the first to admit that I don’t always get this right. I’ve failed in this area more times than I’d like to remember.

But here’s what I know to be true. When we treat people with dignity and let them go with grace, even if they decide to leave on their own, the conversation changes.

As a team member and as a leader, I challenge you to be for people. Be on their side. Stand with them even if they are leaving. Let them know that you are cheering for their success. It costs you nothing, but it means everything.

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IDEAS TO CONSIDER

It takes intention and nurturing to turn a disgruntled team member into a real asset. Seeing team members as real people with real needs helps us develop a better dream team for our company, project or organization. When we see team members as people with lives and needs beyond their job descriptions, we have a better perspective of how to nurture each one toward greatness and bring them into the mission of the team.

ACTIONS TO TAKE

Set clear expectations and communicate these in friendly but clearly written forms. Take meeting notes and send out a follow-up email to indicate what’s expected of each person. Plan meetings and off-site get-togethers to connect with your team members on a more personal and caring level.

Think of a leader who helped you develop as a person. Write out some of your most vivid memories. How did these contribute to your success long after you moved on to another team?

List your dream team members. How do you envision your dream team working together? Next, list the strengths of each member. Reflect on how to maximize these strengths to match your vision and mission. What one thing can you do today to start making that happen?

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Excerpted from Start with Your People by Brian Dixon. Copyright © 2019 by Brian Dixon. Used by permission of Zondervan. Zondervan.com.