What a Baseball Manager Can Teach Us About Letting People Go

One of my leadership pet peeves is about wanna-be managers who take the title, the pay, and the goodies, but then go out of their way to avoid handling the tough stuff — like having to fire someone.

No decent person ever wants to have to let someone go (and anyone who does shouldn’t be managing people in the first place), but as I’ve said before, it’s one of those unpleasant duties that comes with the territory.

Yes, Donald Trump seems to have no problem firing people, but then, he’s doing it each week as entertainment with B and C-level celebrities who aren’t taking it all that seriously anyway. For most managers, however, firing someone is difficult, sometimes emotional, and always best done face-to-face.

Down-to-earth managerial advice

As much as I have written about this topic, you see precious little anywhere on how to do it right. That’s why this Bloomberg Businessweek article that was simply titled How to Let Someone Go by Buck Showalter, manager of the Baltimore Orioles major league baseball team, was refreshing and instructive.

Rarely will you see such specific, down-to-earth advice on something that few managers (and even some HR pros) ever get adequately trained to do. And for Showalter, a veteran manager who constantly has to let players know they won’t be staying with the team, it’s a skill that he seems to have comes to terms with. Here’s a little of what he says:

I don’t ever want to be good at it. Cut day around here takes an emotional toll on me. … When they’re sitting across from me, I want them to know that I’ve got a clear head and that it was important to me to give them the time to explain what’s going on. …

Get them engaged. Get them talking. It’s a conversation about their life and their career, and it shouldn’t be one-sided. You’re trying to define reality as you and the organization see it. I tell them exactly: This is the way I see it; here’s why I see it this way. …

Sometimes it’s a little painful, but they need to hear those things. I always make sure I have someone with me, in case there’s any discrepancy about who said what. And I try to be prepared for whatever might go a different direction.”

“I would want it done that way”

He has a lot more to say, of course, but here’s something else that Showalter focused on that resonated with me:

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It’s changed so much over the years. It used to be real cold. You’d walk in, and there would be a pink slip in your locker and your uniform was gone. Now you sit down and explain it. I don’t know if it’s really any better, but it makes me feel better because if it ever happened to me, I would want it done that way.”

Yes, he seems to have it completely right. Sitting down and having to let someone go in person is tough, but it’s the way that honest, experienced managers do it. That’s because, as Showalter says, “if it ever happened to me, I would want it done that way.”

Sports as a metaphor for life can be overdone, but here’s a good example of something we can learn from sports and apply it to real life.

Buck Showalter doesn’t have all the answers of course, but when it comes to letting people go, he’s seems to know exactly what needs to be done.

Click here for more on How to Let Someone Go

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


1 Comment on “What a Baseball Manager Can Teach Us About Letting People Go

  1. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Casey Stengel, to a player who had just been send down to the minors.
    “Son, we’d like to keep you around this season, but we’re going to try to win a pennant.”
    Cold, but honest.  Hopefully he gave the poor guy some more info about what he should work on so that he could help the team try to win next season!

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