Have you noticed that when a high-profile or public figure makes a mistake, the first reaction we have is to call for him to be fired or forced to resign? Let me first clarify that when I say “we,” I mean the collective voice that includes the media, interactions on social media platforms, and personal exchanges at dinner parties and around the water cooler.
It’s one thing to fire someone because of an egregious or highly immoral offense–there are certainly plenty of examples in which job termination is well justified–but our society seems to have a lynch mob mentality rather than a desire to help someone improve or develop as a person. I find this knee-jerk attitude troubling, because it’s creeping into the workplace and squashing the spirit of innovation.
A Primetime Example: NFL Commissioner Goodell
There have been several examples of highly publicized firings and calls for resignations this year in particular, involving high-ranking government officials, CEOs, and professional coaches, among others. And thanks to social media, even ordinary people caught in unfortunate workplace situations have been thrust into the spotlight and their stories aired for public judge and jury.
Maybe it’s human nature, but we seem to have a need to symbolize a wrongdoing by holding up a single person to blame. One person has to be held accountable with a price to pay: his job, and worse, his dignity. Even if their employment wasn’t terminated, we run transgressors through the wringer with such force that their reputation is permanently tainted. All over a mistake. Perhaps nothing malicious or even illegal, but an error in judgment or an action that led to an undesirable outcome.
Firing someone is often not only unavoidable but necessary, especially for a continuous lack of performance or offenses that intentionally harm a person or the organization. It might not be as exciting or popular–especially when you’re under pressure to take swift action–but why don’t we talk about helping someone make the necessary changes to become a better employee or leader? We seldom hear all the facts behind a mistake once it’s made public, and that mistake could likely be a result of many decisions made along the way.
One of the biggest HR-turned-PR scandals this year was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s mismanagement of the Ray Rice domestic violence investigation. I think we can all agree that something as awful as what happened on that video deserved a much more swift and serious punishment than what he initially handed to Rice. But what we don’t know is what role his bosses–the owners of the NFL teams–had in determining the actions taken. Rice was the person who committed the atrocious offense, but we as a society wanted Goodell to be fired along with him. Do you wipe away a lifetime of accomplishments and tear him down based on a case of poor judgment or a bad decision, or do we help him and the NFL learn from the mistake and become better leaders?