Dear Manager,

There is no greater crisis for any manager than his or her own unanticipated termination. Having worked for myself since college, I realize I can’t fully appreciate or understand the feelings associated with this personal crisis. I recently helped a friend and business colleague work through this process, learning a lot about his feelings, anxieties, and the path he chose to a successful and fulfilling resolution. I’d like to share my perspective on a few of the lessons he learned along the way. It’s certainly much easier to read (and write) about this topic than it is to experience it firsthand!

My friend worked for a significant regional company in the Northwest, which had been purchased a number of years ago by a similar company based in another state. At that time, Phil (not his real name) assumed the role of General Manager for his division. It became very clear over a period of years that Phil had the talent and initiative to not only handle, but to excel in this role. It was also evident to most parties that Phil’s division would clearly outperform the division being managed by ownership.

Over a period of years, ownership became uncomfortable with Phil’s division’s position of strength and his exceptional competitive advantage over the company division. O.K., I can’t be objective any longer. Clearly ownership and their inflated egos couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Instead of using Phil’s talents as a resource for their own division, they began to impose greater control in order to dim their shining star! How is it possible that some owners don’t understand a good thing when it’s sitting in their lap? I also realize I was not privy to the day-to-day operations of this company, yet normally common sense prevails.

One had to assume, from a distance, that it was simply a matter of time for this issue to come to a head. After consistently poor performance in their “company-managed” division, ownership came to the conclusion that operating costs needed to be reduced. Phil was notified that his position would be eliminated. No one would have believed this chain of events had they not seen it unfold over a period of years, as I had.

Phase I

Disbelief, anger, bitterness and, at times, devastation; Phil experienced them all. Each few days brought its own set of emotions. I believe we would all first think of family, personal commitments, and responsibilities. The first phase always seems to lead our imagination straight down the path to the poor house. Why do we always seem to think in terms of “worst case scenarios” in our most difficult financial times? I found in early conversations, though, that Phil looked for indications of hope.

This early phase also seemed to be filled with “finding blame.” Phil felt his personal image had taken a shot, as would any of you reading this. In finding blame, it seemed easier to swallow, particularly if you can find someone other than yourself able to assume this role. After a few days, and from my purely non-emotional state, I suggested that Phil shouldn’t take this action quite so personally!

Yes, without question, ownership should have, could have; in a perfect world would have, taken steps to avoid this inevitable conclusion. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, and Phil was a casualty. Ownership eventually took actions to save the financial assets of the corporation, but it was too late for Phil. “Finding blame” serves no purpose other than wasting ones creative potential in finding a solution.

Phase II

In this scenario, I also believe there would be times of loneliness and solitude for most all of us. Society often defines us by our ability to contribute to family and self. We have all “bought in” to this mentality to some degree. I shared with Phil an honest and sincere level of confidence in his abilities and career potential. In fact, I’d often gone to Phil for advice with my own business challenges. I suggested he literally “talk to himself,” creating a sense of self-confidence in his own advice. In other words, what advice would you give to a friend under a similar set of circumstances? The value in this effort is in its ability to take the raw emotion out of the circumstances. I suggested that I would certainly rely on his advice if I found myself in similar circumstances. It was time that he do the same. What would he tell me to do? Listen to your own words then follow “their truth.” Once the personal emotions are put in their proper perspective, we can proceed both objectively and effectively.

Phase III

This phase comes with acceptance of one’s own reality. With acceptance comes the very first stage of rebuilding ones confidence. This is also the stage in which I believe we are most vulnerable. In the search for confidence, it’s easy to accept alternatives that aren’t in our long-term best interests. Similar to personal relationships, we are vulnerable to the potential “rebound.” Some early indications of new opportunities came Phil’s way within the first couple of weeks. One day, Phil would be elated, confident, and relieved at his good fortune. Days later, optimism crumbled to disappointment when the opportunity wasn’t nearly what was understood at first blush. This roller coaster had seemed to take on a life of its own.

We discussed staying on task. Each day’s agenda would be directed toward his efforts to develop fact on which to base future judgments. While there was initial relief in finding potential opportunities, he also had to look well beyond the surface of each of these opportunities. His considerable skills would be in demand, and there would be many who would like to “take away the pain” and acquire his services at well below market value. The relief in finding a “new home” was certainly not nearly worth the price of selling himself short, or compromising his family’s potential.

I suggested this was finally an opportunity for Phil to take the time to chart his future, as compared to allowing fate to simply push him around. It was time to take back control. Rather than jumping at an opportunity, Phil clearly needed to take the time to make perhaps his last and most important professional career judgments. All options, all scenarios; all potential possibilities should now be objectively reviewed. It’s clearly better to make an informed decision from an inventory of ten choices than it is from an inventory of one!

Phase IV

As the opportunities continued to flow in, I found great pleasure in seeing Phil’s excitement and anticipation grow. This stage finally allowed Phil to realize that, in fact, this time of change might have been the proverbial “blessing in disguise.” Phil hadn’t been completely happy with his former set of circumstances, and had actually considered leaving prior to their decision. The key difference was the fact that it occurred on their timetable rather than his.

Phil has actually become grateful for what he calls the “kick in the rear.” He is on an anticipated fast track as he builds his own marketing representative company serving a number of manufacturers in his former industry. This decision seems to be a perfect fit, as it allows him to draw on prior experiences and contacts that will only serve to enhance this decision. These are uncharted waters for Phil, but as an objective observer, I have no doubt that he will succeed.

As I suggested earlier, I fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) have never personally endured these circumstances first hand. I believe its greatest lesson is in moving beyond the emotions of the moment. In consulting your own inner voice, you might even find a new best friend in the process.

Personal Regards,


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