According to many, the most difficult act a manager will ever engage in is to lay-off, terminate, or otherwise fire someone.

And given that it is such a challenging and/or emotionally taxing endeavor, you’d think there’d be more than a few management books devoted to just this subject.

Well, not in my experience.

In fact, those texts are few and far between, I’ve found (and they tend to be slender volumes at that). So for this installment in my recurring Paradox of the week* series of posts, a couple contradictory/paradoxical assertions from two of them.


The first can be found in (Lessons Learned) Hiring and Firing: Straight talk From the World’s Top Business Leaders by Adam Sosdowick and Andy Hasoon (2008, Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press).

  • On page 63, the authors quote John Roberts, a former CEO of United Utilities, who argues “…if you demonstrate that there’s a logical process behind it [letting someone go], that it’s not just an emotional reaction…[this] puts you in a very secure position.”
  • But later, on page 81, they quote Peter Ellwood, Group Chairman, Imperial Chemical Industries: “If you know in your heart—and it is an emotional [my emphasis] as well as a mental thing—that somebody is not right for the job…then you have to act.”

And then from Fix Them or Fire Them by Steven J. Shaer (2013, Challenger Press).

  • On page 2, Shaer writes: “Fire quickly and hire slowly. You will never say that you wish you kept an employee you fired…but you will say you wish you fired them sooner.”
  • And yet on page 6, he argues: “Economically, it is important to remember that it is far more efficient for your company and you to transform underperforming employees into satisfactory employees than it is to fire them…”


And finally, I couldn’t resist including one from Managing for Dummies by Bob Nelson and Peter Economy (2003, New York: Wiley Publishing), who are guilty of a similar lapse in logic:

  • On page 252 of their text, the authors insist: “Exhaust alternative approaches to dismissal.”
  • And yet later on that very same page, they argue: “Act quickly to dismiss.”


See you next week.


*An instance in which a management advice-giver/author/“expert”/guru offers contradictory of otherwise paradoxical advice, typically without any apparent awareness of having done so. For more examples of this phenomena, click here. For an explanation as to why this happens—and why it happens so often—please see: “Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1,2&3).”