Getting Fired…Make This Period of Change the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You

To operate based on conviction and belief requires an acceptance that your actions could get you fired. This is different from pig-headed bravado, and it is different from putting the company at risk. -Simon Sinek

Terminated. Fired. Let go. Those words can send shock waves to the very core of even the most seasoned leader; knocking you to your knees for weeks, months and sometimes with silent ripples for years to come.  However, they do not define you. With the wisdom of hindsight and having hundreds of conversations with leaders, I’ve created 10 Post-Firing Actions for Amazing Leaders to help you – or someone you know – navigate through this crossroad moment.

If you’ve recently been terminated – more likely expressed in slightly softer ways, like: “It’s just not working out. We’ve decided to go in a different direction. It’s what’s best for all parties. Would you like to resign?”  – I am both sorry you’re going through it and I offer you my Congratulations! You’ve just begun your Next Chapter!

This IS an exciting time for you.  And, no matter what pressures to take “action” you may face, as a “Crossroad Moment” this is a time to challenge yourself to look inward for insights on your impact, and reveal any limiting beliefs or superficial narratives about your value, identity and what the termination (being fired!*) actually “means.”

*In writing this article, I noticed I had to force myself to type the word “fired.” There are so many other words I prefer to use. Being fired is often a part of a strong career of impact for amazing leaders, and yet no one prepares us for it, or wants to talk about it.  This week, I took this observation into the private Facebook group I lead for my coaching clients and was moved by the candid stories and the emotions – even when, like me, the incident had occurred years ago and led to an extraordinary career and life. Feelings of being rejected, not valued, not understood are powerful, go deep and are universal. And they often go unspoken.

Prior to being a consultant, professional Interim CEO, and Next Chapter Coach I led a summer chamber music festival and experienced my first and only termination – i.e. I was fired. It was a terrible experience. It stung. It was embarrassing. And even though I knew intellectually that the decision was made in response to a new leader’s re-visioning of how to deliver on the mission rather than a statement of my value, and even though I knew I wasn’t happy, it felt like rejection just the same. (Long story short) I gave myself some time to heal and transition, and then I focused on how to continue to help others and have impact.

Later as Vice President of a national arts consulting firm I would listen with compassion (and frustration) as Executive Search candidates struggled and crumbled when asked why they had “departed” an organization. Even when armed with an industry’s “code” language – “It just wasn’t a good match. I decided to pursue new opportunities. We had different views on how to achieve success.” – their body language would often shift before my eyes. These were good leaders! They had significant impact and knew how to help others, and yet their limiting beliefs about their departures were holding themselves back from moving forward.

Now as I coach leaders to curate their lives of impact and joy, it is in the context of time where patterns in our personal and professional lives are revealed, causes and conditions are identified, momentum is observed and fueled, and moments of transition (whether generated ourselves or reacted to) become part of the fabric of our unique story and wisdom.

I invite us all to reach out to colleagues who have found themselves in this situation (okay, I’ll try typing the words again: Fired! Rejected!), and let them know their value, let them know your own experience and how you now know, in hindsight, how it helped move you forward as a leader.

Rear View Mirror Wisdom –
10 Post-Firing Actions for Amazing Leaders**

  1. Go Easy on Yourself. You are in a moment of transition. It’s a real thing. There are common dynamics and mind traps. For some high-achievers, you may feel adrift, experience a lack of focus or productivity.
  2. Stay in the Present Moment. Be mindful not to create blanket statements of blame, narratives of victimization, or thought loops about what you “shoulda-coulda” done, or other pesky voices in your head telling you what being fired may or may not mean about you, your leadership, and your future.  
  3. Invest Time for Self-Care. Depending on the nature of your departure, what transpired in the weeks, months and years prior, your body and mind may need to heal. Literally and figuratively.  You will move forward soon enough. Savor this time. Restore and refuel.
  4. Take Stock – Make a long list of all the ways you positively had impact in the organization/business. If you can’t think of anything, then stay.right.here.until.you.do.  I guarantee if you and I were talking right now, it would be a long list!  This list is not (only) to make you feel good.  You need this factual information for your brain and heart when you drift back into limiting beliefs (see #1 and #2 above), and then later to incorporate into your Next Chapter positioning statements.
  5. Take Charge. You’re not a victim. In every situation, we get to choose how to RE-act; how to think, feel, speak and act – “Even if…fill in the blank.”  Make the choices that create the possibility for a Next Chapter – in fact, your DREAM scenario. (Revealing and deeply knowing what those choices are, for you, at this particular point in your life is why I created The Career (Life!) Breakthrough Academy )
  6. Communicate – Part A. (Communication alone could be at least 4 BLOG topics!) A termination/mutually-agreed resignation often comes with legal agreements dictating how a leader communicates the departure publicly, or there can be industry or societal norms at play. It can be frustrating when the institution and the public can comment freely, and you cannot. In most cases, the desire to correct and defend must wait. You take the high road while the dust settles. And if it helps, remember that when we all read about a colleague’s departure we know there is always more to the story. Trust that the people who matter to you, know you.
  7. Communicate – Part B. Shame, embarrassment, depression, confusion, lack of focus – can all be experienced… and our instinct is to do the exact opposite of what can help! Please, reach out to trusted family, friends, mentors, colleagues. You are not alone, you’ve done nothing “wrong,” and as a strong leader it’s a wonderful opportunity to honor those around you by asking for their help.
  8. Communicate – Part C. Meanwhile, as you begin to transition into your Next Chapter it is absolutely critical to create and eventually pro-actively communicate your message.   Your powerful, authentic (and truthful) trajectory of impact, your true value, your purpose, the problems you solve, the ways you help others – so that those you are meant to help can find you. I say this as a result of my belief that everyone has a unique ability, and thus responsibility, to help others.  The beautiful news is that you can have this impact through many, many different vehicles – and taking some of your new-found time to create new clarity on what you (really) want before leaping into action is key.
  9. Be Strategic – Make a 2-column list of 1. your leadership strategies & behaviors you want to take forward that will serve you well and 2. a list of those you want to leave behind, that didn’t serve you well in this last job and likely won’t in the future. [yes, I’m being a little sneaky here. As much as being fired may not be a failure, there are always lessons in how we may have contributed to the dynamic, what we avoided, how we reacted, etc..]
  10. (re)Connect with Your Identity and Value.  One of my favorite exercises to do with coaching clients – especially with those who are currently unemployed is to create new Elevated Impact Statements for networking events when asked:  “What do you do?”   You are more than a Job Title, or role, or organization.  Here are two BLOGS from the archives that may be helpful:  Two Questions Leaders Must Answer & Don’t Hide Your YOU-niquess

The more we can each commit to knowing our unique value (the impact we have on others when we show up fully and are feeling joy), the easier it becomes to make Next Step decisions, and curate an integrated life of meaning.

To your success! 

And please – if you know anyone wanting to move forward after being fired, please reach out to them in compassion and support, share this article with them, and encourage them to reach out to me for a free Strategy Call!

Kathryn

Kathryn R Martin,
“Next Chapter” Coach
Creator of The Career (Life!) Breakthrough Academy
Leadership Transition Strategist & Professional Interim CEO

**While good leaders can make bad decisions and then learn from them, for the purposes of this article I’m not refering to terminations that result from illegal activity, or immoral or unethical behavior.

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