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Leadership Lesson #4: Know When to Let Go

One of the hardest things about growth that I experienced early on at IMPACT Group is that some individuals wanted to claim an individual victory for their efforts within the company as a whole. It was a difficult day to say the least, when the first woman I brought on as a manager and coached and nurtured for years, began acting differently.

She was about eight years younger than me and truly she looked up to me. I had handed her the Anheuser Busch account when we were doing EAP referral work, counseling their employees and families. I taught her how to dress, how to mange the client, and how to hire new people. We were close. She admired this one suit I had and always said so whenever I wore it. So, the day she closed her first big account, I went out, bought her the exact same suit, wrapped it up with a big red bow, drove to her house and hung it on her front door with a “love note,” saying congratulations. She was thrilled.

Everything changed right before her performance appraisal. She’d been talking to someone who suggested that she was perhaps “not getting her due.” I was oblivious to this walking into the appraisal meeting, feeling so excited about being able to offer her 15% of the company to thank her for all the hard work and loyalty she had shown. During the four years she had worked for me, she never once hinted at wanting a percentage of the company so I thought my offer would go over very well with her. In other circumstances it might have, however, whoever had coached her made a huge error in judgment. This person had suggested that she ask for 50% of the company! I was dumbfounded. Here I was feeling magnanimous in offering her 15% after being with me for a few short years and she wanted half of my company! Here’s how I responded.

“Look, you have been very helpful in making this transition from a counseling company to a national relocation company, but you took none of the risks. You didn’t double mortgage your home, you’ve gotten a paycheck every week when I have not, you don’t have to make payroll every week, you don’t pay rent, and you were given clients from day one.”

“But managing your current EAP clients has allowed you to branch out Laura, and start the IMPACT Group Spouse and Family Transition Division,” she insisted.

“Yes, but that’s what I pay you to do. That’s your job,” I responded.

I added that whoever was coaching her, was doing her a great disservice. But she stuck to her guns anyway. I don’t know what made me say what followed, but it just came flying out of me and I found the guts to follow through with it.

“I am so sorry you feel that way. I am offering you 15% of the company and I was excited to do that. I didn’t have to do that. But I realize now that you will never be happy with only 15%. You will always feel like I cheated you. I would hate having you feel that. So, I am left with no other alternative but to let you go. I hate doing it as I love working with you and I have been thrilled with what we have accomplished together. But you have given me no option. You will always feel taken advantage of, so I am sorry, I have to terminate you,” I said in what felt like one big breath.

She left the room, in shock.

Then, I went back to my office and cried. I loved this woman but my gut told me I was right. I had to do it.

I gained many valuable lessons from the experience. I learned to praise people in appropriate amounts and never make them feel that they are the sole reason for the company’s success; that it’s an individual rather than team effort, and certainly not that they are operating at the same level as the true risk takers at the top – the owners and founders of the business! As a business owner, your name is on the bank note. Your home is on the line. Your sleepless nights are yours alone. Do not let anyone try to blackmail you or guilt you into giving them a raise or part ownership of the company. You must use your best judgment at all times. Trust your intuition.

I’ve wondered at times what this woman felt when (or if) she heard that we grew into almost a $50 million company. If she had accepted what I saw as a generous offer, she would have received 15% of our profits for the past twenty-five years. It would have been millions of dollars.

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