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How to Fire a Colleague in a Conscious Way

Diana Chapman April 10, 2018

Someone on your team is not performing at the level you want, isn’t mission-aligned, is challenging for other team members to work with, or simply isn’t a good fit for the role. When it’s time to consider letting them go, there are two ways to do so: consciously or unconsciously. Here’s how to move through the firing process consciously.


Rather than blaming the team member for being a poor performer and making it all about them, a conscious leader looks first at their own part in creating the result, asking themselves, “What was my role in co-creating this outcome?”

• Did I do a thorough job vetting this employee when I hired them?

• Did I clearly define their role and responsibilities?

• Did I give them regular feedback along the way to point out their challenges?

• Did I edit any of my thoughts or feelings along the way and thereby wasn’t fully honest?

• Did I provide them with a strong manager?

• Did I help them identify their strengths and provide work that brought them forward?

• Did I write a performance review to let them know what was not working and define action steps to change the behavior and results?

These and other questions support you in seeing your part. They can help you to stop placing blame and start owning your results. From here you have options. The first option is to sit down with the colleague and have an honest conversation.

It might sound like this: “Brian, the results show that you have not been completing the tasks you have agreed to do with the quality I have wanted. I’d like each of us to take ownership for how we have co-created this result. I’ll start first by acknowledging that I did not give you feedback this year that could likely have made a difference in your success. I also acknowledge that I did not create the time in my schedule to have regular one-on-one meetings with you. I also wanted to avoid having difficult conversations and can see how that did not serve either of us.”

You might then ask Brian to own his part in not being a high performer. If Brian is willing to own his part, you can design a very clear plan together for how to create the results you most want, including regularly touching base to monitor progress.

If Brian is unwilling to fully own his part and to stop blaming and complaining, you’ll likely choose to let him go since the pattern won’t shift unless all parties take responsibility.

Another option is that you’ll find that you are unwilling to do what it would take to resolve the issue. Perhaps your heart isn’t in it because you’re unwilling to take the time required. In this case, you’ll have to own your unwillingness and work through the difficult decisions and conversations required to let the employee go.


When people are in the midst of creating successful teams and businesses, everything can start to feel serious. From this place it’s easy to see one another, especially “underperforming team members,” simply as obstacles to getting to where we want to be. When this happens, we often close our hearts to one another.

Keeping your heart open requires you to see the other person as an ally, someone who is in service of your learning and growth — even if it seems clear that you can’t keep them on the team. Open hearts can also easily appreciate. Ask yourself what you most appreciate about the person you want to let go:

• What strengths do you appreciate about them?

• What contributions have they made that you appreciate?

• What can you appreciate about the challenges you have been having with them?

It also helps to imagine that this colleague is your sibling or parent or child or spouse. How would you want the colleagues of your loved ones to treat them if they were going to fire them? This mindset inspires kindness and supports you to help them find a new role that will allow them to give their greatest gifts to the world.


How can you stand for your needs, the needs of the team, the needs of the organization, and the needs of the person you are firing? The key is to discover what those needs are and make sure that you stand for all of them equally.

Some leaders stand too much for the needs of the person getting fired at the expense of the wellbeing of the organization; for example, by allowing the team member to stay too long when they are not effective in their role.

Other leaders can get too focused on the needs of the team and be insensitive to what will most support the colleague in finding a new position someplace else. When leaders are caught in beliefs of scarcity, such as not having enough time or money, they can play a zero-sum game.

These questions can support you to make sure you’re firing consciously:

• What would it look like to have this transition be as free of stress as possible for our colleague and for us?

• What resources can we offer to help this person be successful at finding another position, while also valuing our time and money?

• What feedback can we offer to help this team member be more aware of their strengths and challenges in order to make them more successful moving forward?

• How do we honor our HR and legal* requirements, while also treating our colleague with support and kindness?

• How do we stand for the mental and emotional needs of all of our team members as one of them is being asked to leave, especially if that person has been a part of the team for a long time?

The more you as a leader can stay vulnerable, honest, and devoted to learning through the firing process, the more likely it is that you will be able to take responsibility, keep your heart open, and create a win-for-all situation. It’s courageous to be a conscious leader day-to-day, and even more so when the challenge of needing to fire someone arises.

*Note: The legal folks in your organization may not agree with some of our recommendations. Most legal advice is in service of avoiding lawsuits, not in supporting us to be more conscious with one another. I encourage you to keep that in mind as you move through the firing process.

Meet Diana Chapman at the Conscious Company Leaders Forum June 6–8, 2018:

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