Fire Yourself

I recently read an article titled "When to Fire Your Boss" by leadership coach Steve Keating. It prompted me to think about all the reasons people give for changing jobs. As a CME-professional-turned-recruiter, I thought I had heard (or personally experienced) all of the reasons that push people to say "enough."

The fact is, I was wrong, and I’m glad. Observing the variation in people’s motivations has become one of the most interesting aspects of my professional life.

Personal Gap Analysis

It's easy to point at others when things aren't going the way we had hoped. Our boss is a jerk or an empty suit, a stifling micromanager or so hands-off that we’re drifting and leaderless. Our teammates are scheming backstabbers. The guy in the next cube is a soul-destroying whiner. Why can't these people get with the program? Why don't they work on improving? Why can't they change?

Do we have the courage to ask ourselves these same questions? Does it even occur to us to be introspective when we hit a frustrating obstacle or face off with a difficult office personality?

Maybe some of us need to fire ourselves. That doesn't mean quitting our jobs (although it might) but rather identifying and then stopping the behaviors or non-behaviors that are a part of our negative situation. Can we do a personal, honest needs assessment, then learn, adapt, and improve? Isn't this what we preach as enlightened adult educators? To paraphrase a wise man: Be the change you wish to see in others.

Self-Assessment Strategies

For many people, this level of self-awareness and accountability may seem beyond reach without some help. Here are some ideas for getting there:

  • 360-review. If your team doesn't do these, pair up with a trusted colleague and informally do your own. Agree to share your unvarnished impressions about each other in constructive terms with a goal of improving. Commit to serving as accountability partners for each other. Focus on behaviors that are aligned with team goals and your organization's mission. Hint: If you find it difficult to get on board with team goals or your organization's mission, then perhaps bigger changes are in order.
  • Personality/behavioral assessment. There are a number of tools that are widely available online for free. They can give you fascinating and accurate insights into your strengths and areas for improvement. Two I like are (I am not affiliated with either.) Hint: These surveys are also a great source of material for the executive summary portion of a resume, but that's for another post.
  • Find a mentor. Most people are flattered and eager to help if asked. Do your share of the heavy lifting by drafting at least a rough agenda of what you hope to accomplish in the relationship. It's important for expectations to be shared if a good outcome is expected. Remember that active listening is important in a mentor-mentee dynamic.
  • Align yourself with the "stealth" leaders around you. A title and corner office do not a leader make. Trust your instincts on this one and find people who project a positive influence, are calm under fire, and manage to consistently get things done. Take notes because these people are going places.
  • Go social. Participate in the Continuing Medical Education LinkedIn group or other groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or other networks specific to our industry. Search for keywords to find articles/blogs/discussions on performance or leadership. Start a discussion thread or comment on an item that resonates with you. Any level of participation is a good start, even if you begin just by listening.

What would you add to this list?

What Motivates You to Change?

During the recruiting process, I enjoy getting acquainted with the potential candidates. During these initial free-ranging chats, I rarely open with a description of the job opportunity I've got in mind for them. I prefer to yield the floor and listen to people tell me what is motivating them to consider a move. Many times I'll hear about bad managers, dysfunctional teams, struggling business environments, or other problems. This is not a pro forma exercise—it can be very enlightening for both of us.

I listen, take notes, and then ask, "What have you done to resolve this situation?" The answer helps me assess the person's emotional maturity, self-awareness, problem-solving ability, and initiative—even their sense of humor. It's incredible how much I can learn about a person using this approach and how liberating it seems to be for people to verbalize these things in a confidential setting. It's a great starting point for more in-depth discussions.

Many of my best candidates are those who are willing to "fire themselves." They have the courage to embrace change and the confidence to bet on their ability to develop new skill sets. What team wouldn't want such people? Give these ideas a try if you've reached a career impasse.

[Note: This article was originally published in March 2013. Click here to read it at]