Relieving someone of their duties and responsibilities is never easy. In fact, it’s ONE of the most challenging acts you’ll perform as a leader. No one enjoys this part of leadership; however, it’s part of leading others. 

Relieving a subordinate is a significant and emotional event, especially when the individual is a key leader within your organization. Your decision will have far reaching implications.

Some obvious ones:

The person being relieved will likely feel a sense of public humiliation, helplessness, and embarrassment.

The organization’s morale and climate may change for the better if the person relieved was not favored by others. However, if the person relieved is favored by others, the leader may inadvertently become the next enemy of the State. 

Regardless of the implication, the emotional tensions are real when performing this leader task.  

I can count on one hand, the number of times I relieved a subordinate. The circumstances surrounding each event were noticeably different. However, my desired outcome was the same; make the best possible decision without compromising my values and the integrity of my position.  

Using one of my cases as an example. I relieved a high performing leader who was well-liked by others (inside and outside the organization). I adored the subordinate and repeatedly sought the individual’s counsel on organizational challenges prior to the event.  

While relieving the subordinate was challenging, managing the aftermath of the decision proved more difficult than anticipated. 

I recommend you consider six things once you’ve committed to relieving a subordinate. 

#1 What’s the worst possible outcome once the individual is relieved? This helps you identify potential risks. 

#2 Find the subordinate a soft-landing spot before you relieve them. The individual needs a meaningful job to feel relevant, preventing future discipline issues.  

#3 Lead with empathy and treat the individual with dignity and respect. The golden rule is, treat others like you’d want to be treated. 

#4 Provide support. Ensure the individual receives counseling because rational people make irrational decisions when faced with adversity.  

#5 Follow up. This shows you genuinely care despite the shortcoming. People remember how you treated them when they’re down.  

#6 Reflect. Ask yourself, what could I have done differently e.g., provided more counseling, offered clearer guidance, set better expectations, etc. If the answer is nothing, recognize you did your best. If the answer is yes, develop a plan to improve. 

Hope this helps you grow as a leader.  

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