Fire Yourself First

Jun 16, 2023 | Article, Healthy Leadership, Healthy Leadership Public

Recently I re-read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It’s a powerful fable about a CEO named Kathryn Petersen. She is a kind of hero to me and a model for a great CEO. During the story she has many great moments and messages to the team. In one key line of dialogue her CMO Mikey warns her that she could lose her job if she continues to push into organizational health and challenge the status quo. Kathryn deftly responds that her job is not to keep her job. She says, “My job is to build an executive team that can make this company work.” (p. 155) She overcame a fear most leaders have so that she can get her real job done: building a healthy organization.

Admit it. We are all thinking it. We want to keep our jobs. Or, at the very least, we want job security. We lose sleep over it. Our families lose sleep over it. And we spend lots of time and energy trying to determine where we stand.

The irony is, the more energy we spend trying to ‘not lose’ our jobs, the less energy we spend actually fulfilling our purpose as leaders. If you ask any board or company owner what percentage of a work week they want leaders worrying about their job security, they would say, “zero.” It’s just a distraction that leads to stress and low productivity.

Applying this specifically to leaders, fear over job security comes from a constant barrage of pressure, blame, and the all around pressure cooker of that position. So it’s understandable if they put up their defenses or manage perceptions about their performance. They go from putting out fires to explaining why they put it out only to see another fire ignite. In the midst of this situation, a voice inside their head can creep in and say: “My job is to keep my job.”

If you are a leader and some of this rings true, here’s a fresh idea on how to face this challenge: don’t wait to get fired…fire yourself first. That’s right. Pull out a piece of paper and write your resignation letter. You don’t have to turn it in. Just write it with no date on it. Perhaps in doing so you will release the distraction of job security and unlock the power of fulfilling your organization’s purpose.

lt could go something like this…

Date: _______

To Whom It May Concern,

I am stepping down as the leader of this organization. I have given it everything I have and have devoted myself to our employees, our customers, and our stakeholders. But, I promised myself from day one that my job was to deliver results and not protect myself or my job.

This organization does not exist for me. It exists for a greater purpose. And I don’t want to get in the way of that purpose.

So, since I have taken my team and this organization as far as I can, I’m yielding my position to another who can take over where I have left off. I will be happy to do whatever I can to put my successor in a great position and support his or her tenure.



Sound weird? Awkward? Maybe. What’s even more awkward is the days, weeks, months, even years that go by as leaders (who are not fulfilling their jobs) do whatever they can to keep them. And even more, they sabotage the organization’s ability to move on and course correct.

So take that letter, put it in an envelope and keep it in your desk drawer. This will remind you that you control your own destiny and can beat anybody to the punch before making them pull the trigger. Easier on everyone. Worry about the small list of things you can control and not the long list of the things you cannot.

I gave this article to a current client and leader (CEO of a small business). He replied back to me saying, “I actually did it. I wrote my resignation letter and gave it to a friend outside the organization. It reminded me I’m in control of my own destiny and can move on to using 100% of my time and energy to do my job.

Another client (Vice President of Technology for a distribution center) did the same and said vulnerably and with a disarming chuckle, “The truth is no one wants my damn job! I’m going to do it until someone else steps up that can do it better than me.”

Sounds harsh? You might say, “But, wait! I am the right person for the job! I can lead the organization to fulfill its purpose.” Good. Then focus all your energy on that. And, if the day ever comes when you truly don’t believe that you can be the first to pull out that letter. Sign and date it and hand it over.

No matter what, don’t waste one minute of your knowledge, skills, and expertise on keeping your job. If you are willing to fire yourself first, you can just get on with the real challenges of having an impact on the markets you serve and the people in your sphere of influence.

Remember, just because you can’t get that job done in one setting doesn’t mean you are a bad leader or can’t recover. There are scores of great leaders who have learned from failures along the way. There’s likely another job somewhere that needs you. But you’re no good to any organization if you are consumed with the fear of losing your job. So, just fire yourself first and get it out of the way. Now off to work! 🙂


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