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a Boss Gets 'Fired' by Subordinates
James F. Bracher
NATIONAL BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT WEEKLY
November 13, 1983
can reverse bad situations with five-step plan
you are a manager, owner or supervisor with serious
personnel or productivity problems, there's a strong
chance you have been fired by the people you employ.
mind the old line "they can't fire me - I'm
the boss," it happens every day in every kind
of business and industry. Just as employers scrutinize,
rank, reward or punish employees, those who work
farther down the ladder make value judgments and
act for or against their superiors. A fired boss
is at a disadvantage. At least the fired subordinate
knows when the ax falls and can make a clean break,
but no one comes right out and tells the boss his
employees have sacked him. In fact, disaffected employees
may appear to give even more personal attention to
the boss for whom they will no longer perform, figuring
that since they can't physically remove their supervisor,
they can work around him or her. In a form of passive
resistance, they offer minimum performance and increased
for firing the boss are more numerous than grounds
for firing a subordinate, but in most cases, employees
are fairly tolerant of management foul-ups. Employees
won't "pull the plug" on a boss until management
has done a fairly complete job of botching the operation.
of hundreds of managers fired by employees produces
the following list of 25 offenses that can get a
boss "terminated." In order of seriousness,
the crimes are:
- Offer substandard wages
and benefits comparison to other employers in the
industry or geographic area;
- Be rude or harsh in dealing with subordinates;
- Refuse to listen to ideas and suggestions;
- Criticize or discipline workers in the presence
of their peers;
- Pass over company people at promotion time for
- Fail to keep promises made or implied;
- Permit wage inequities to exist between jobs;
- Keep subordinates in the dark about future corporate
- Demonstrate a lack of technical knowledge of
- Show favoritism;
- Make frequent changes in rules, assignments
- Fail to prepare people for job growth and advancement;
- Make up personnel policies haphazardly and
avoid putting the rules in
- Withhold praise for good work;
- Frequently impose demands which force workers
to choose between job and
- Tolerate a dirty or poorly maintained workplace;
- Have little direct and personal contact with
- Be inconsistent in disciplinary action;
- Save up criticisms of an employee's performance
until the manager brings
himself or herself to a low boil and then roasts
the surprised worker over a
litany of forgotten sins;
- Demand standards of performance from employees
which the manager doesn't
- Be tardy with pay increases;
- Be casual and imprecise in instructions to
- Ignore health and safety rules;
- Demonstrate through personal actions that workers
don't have job
isn't necessary to commit all 25 offenses - even
one serious transgression on management's part may
be sufficient to draw a no-confidence vote. Middle
and upper management people are as likely to fire
the boss as blue collar or hourly workers. Additionally,
the potential for being fired by subordinates is
the same everywhere, from corner grocery stores to
of leadership demise may appear first as a decline
in enthusiasm and morale among employees. Workers
will begin to grumble more loudly and more often
about policies and procedures. A major indicator
of trouble at or near the top of the company is any
upturn in absenteeism; a decline in quality or quantity
of production also would set alarm bells ringing
in the head office. The preventative medicine is
simple. All bosses, even those who are certain that
they are doing perfectly, must maintain an internal
communications system that encourages feedback.
A "fired" boss
usually is the last to know of his or her demise.
Unhappy employees - at every level -will not remain
loyal indefinitely. Titles, privileges, dollars and
stock options are rewards which soon lose their potency
in the face of underlying dissatisfactions with the
the employee-fired executive may remain on the job
for months or years after being mentally terminated
by the hired help, a brutal crash is predictable.
In the end, the chief is officially fired by those
who will not abide by the end result: the plummet
unlike the terminated employee, the fired boss has
a good opportunity to be rehired by employees at
almost any stage of the process. He or she must recognize
the problem, understand the reasons and take action
to be reinstated.
the case of Robert V., a nonunion department head
in a major heavy equipment manufacturing company.
At 55, with 20 years invested in the company, Robert
had a major obstacle in his path to become plant
manager: most of the 32 people in Robert's department
didn't work for him anymore. Robert's first dismissal
warning came in the resignation letter of his bright
assistant who left the company in early 1981 for
reasons more closely akin to frustration than ambition.
And the way the resignation was handled damaged the
morale and productivity of Robert's entire department.
the company made no effort to learn why Robert's
assistant quit, erroneously taking the resignation
at face value, including his letter's vague references
to exploring new opportunities. Someone in management
(i.e., Robert) should have spoken to the assistant
in confidence; had such a meeting taken place, the
worker would have explained that he worked the two
previous years in a new job without any formal performance
review. When the neglected review finally came, it
was packed with a rehash of old criticisms and devoid
of credit for accomplishment.
company's second mistake was bigger and even worse:
Robert went outside the firm to recruit his new key
assistant. When Robert passed over experienced and
well-qualified people in the department, one could
almost hear the morale crashing - and spreading to
other departments in the plant. As if the new assistant's
arrival wasn't a hard enough adjustment for the department,
at about the same time, the economy soured, paving
the way for management's next blunder. The company
raised product prices, eliminated some positions,
reduced hours and imposed the kinds of workplace
economies (i.e., wage, vacation and overtime restrictions)
that hurt product quality.
and the plant manager attempted to explain those
decisions after the fact, but lost credibility three
months later when the company reported a 26% after-tax
earnings increase. The people who had been asked
to work harder and smarter for less money were upset.
The end result: nothing Robert said was believed
and nothing he asked was achieved.
soared, and by the end of 1982, Robert was left with
only six of about 35 employees who were on his department
payroll two years earlier. The rest had resigned
- some without prospects of new jobs. Turnover continues
to run high even among the replacements who lack
the productive power of experienced employees.
department, once among the best in the company, today
is a shambles. His career advancement is on hold
at least; it may be finished. Can Robert survive,
rebuild the department and be rehired by his subordinates?
the channels of communication have completely broken
down, a manager can
take five steps to be "rehired":
- Supervise by setting realistic goals for subordinates.
- Develop workers by setting aside adequate time
for training and
- Lead staff to better job behavior by praising
good performance and
sharing credit for success.
- Communicate more effectively by listening carefully
- Show no favoritism.
approach requires a boss to recognize that he has
been fired for cause by his employees. It demands
management attitude and style changes to meet the
challenge of the workforce. Managers often are most
distant from younger employees; the manager must
work hardest to incorporate those workers into his
or her new philosophy.
is only a short step for the manager from understanding
the workforce to mobilizing the human resource it
represents; he or she will be the rehired and renewed
leader of the newly inspired workforce. Obstacle
becomes opportunity as the trauma of being "fired" ignites
the boss's desire for self-improvement.
not every down manager avails himself or herself
of the opportunity to reform. Robert V. still hasn't
implemented the five steps. Some people elect not
to respond to the challenge because they have an
inner fear of advancing beyond their capacity. Still
others, perhaps more applicable in Robert's case,
will refuse to accept that their future is within
their own hands. Even when informed of their shortcomings,
some managers don't believe that they have been fired
by their employees - and won't be able to continue
their own careers without them.
managers clearly have a choice when decline strikes
their foundation of profits: productivity. Some will
insist that employees aren't as good as they once
were and will settle for low morale, absenteeism,
poor productivity and high employee attrition as
necessary evils of doing business. Those bosses in
effect will be abdicating the responsibility given
to them for human resource management.
bosses will learn to motivate and stimulate workers,
young and old, who are individuals first and employees
second - people with pride in their work and who
demand job satisfaction, a hearing for their ideas
and the respect and confidence of those at the top.
executives who won't or can't acknowledge the underlying
problem will continue to run their businesses on
the brink of failure. Lucky ones will muddle through,
while the less fortunate find themselves spending
more hours in nonproductive meetings with union representatives.
you have been fired by subordinates, don't be discouraged.
Recognizing and correcting past mistakes is victory
in itself. And you may find that in being rehired,
you're also renewed.
James F. Bracher, creator of the Bracher Center
for Integrity in Leadership, is the founder and chairman
of Dimension Five Consultants, Inc. a management
consulting firm in Monterey, California.