Academic journal article Military Review

You Are Fired

Academic journal article Military Review

You Are Fired

Article excerpt

You may not see it coming, but usually few are surprised when a senior leader does his duty by relieving a subordinate leader who committed unacceptable personal behavior or who publicly failed in leadership and management. The firing probably is done for the good of the service or to ensure mission accomplishment, and the guilty party and the public expect it. Granted, toxic leaders rarely are aware of their own poison and believe they are good performers up to the moment the ax falls. Sometimes, however, unseen forces are at work, and the victim and bystanders are taken unaware.

The military is a hierarchal organization that can suffer from the same self-serving behaviors than often afflict any bureaucracy. The motives of the senior official who pulls the plug may be courageous and commendable, or they may be craven and contemptible. The decision is often a judgment call. It may be made under pressure of outside influences. The dismissal of anyone of strategic rank can push disruptive ripples throughout the institution, so we should explore the process by which the authority arrives at the unhappy decision. Effective leaders must fully understand this decision-making process and the necessary follow-up from the perspectives of their own office and the person who is relieved. Relief is a necessary and inevitable tool of leadership that must be applied judiciously and effectively. Moreover, its user must accept personal accountability for the decision. Relief can even be used creatively.

Getting the chop is a gut-wrenching experience, and so is wielding the ax. Therefore, for readers who have never been fired, this article will try to involve you in the emotions of getting canned, by including you as the subject of a fictional scenario based on historical events. How would you handle either side of the desk? Some of either character's actions leading up to the firing might have been less than noble. How might anyone's professional compass become perverted? How can a hierarchical organization prevent corrupt and corrupting behavior? Is corruption among those who wield power inevitable?

You have been called into the presence of your immediate senior, who says-

I am relieving you from command, immediately, and sending you home. Since this meeting and conversation are not being recorded, I can be starkly frank about why. This may surprise you. Sit down; your knees look wobbly.

I want to make it clear that there is no allegation of moral turpitude. There have been several instances when your conduct has been below standard, and I have tried hard to work with you to help you improve so it pains me to give up on you, but I must. This dismissal is due, in reality, to your poor performance as a leader. Aside from that, the recent exposure on social media of your unprofessional behavior would be sufficient grounds for termination. That public exposure means I cannot delay because I cannot cover up your failures, and it gives me the opportunity to make a highly visible change by firing you. This will show everyone that I am clearly in charge and leading. It does not make the bad news better, but it relieves some stress and satisfies the public.

No doubt, you will feel humiliated and angry because I am crushing your dream of a long military career and a place in the history books. Remember, though, that when you accepted the authority of command and the deference that comes with it, you also accepted the risk of blame and disgrace for failure. Your troops are risking wounds or worse in combat while you only have risked your reputation. Stalin's commissars may have given a failed general a pistol and a single bullet to do what must be done, and a defeated Roman commander may have sought an honorable death fighting in the front rank, but that is not the American way. I don't want you to be a damned fool about this and harm yourself.

You are not the first commander that I have relieved during this deployment. …

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