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Firing Offenses

Deserving to lose in business, school, sports, and politics.

by Barnabas
August 25, 2004

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In my fiction-writing mode I once imagined a prep school with a straight-forward disciplinary policy: severe penalties, if not expulsion, would follow if a student’s behavior were of the sort that would get him arrested or fired in the adult world.

I never wrote the story, but I find the theme useful for today’s column.

One gets arrested for crimes and misdemeanors as defined by the community. We are all expected to abide by the laws while they are in place, with the understanding that we may work to change those we consider unjust.

Firing offenses are more subjective. I’m using the the word "fire" in its pejorative sense. Getting laid off because the work has run out, or the business has changed, may feel like getting fired; but the language of "firing"(or its equivalent in education, sports, and politics) applies only when the worker, student, player, or candidate is at fault. They are fired, expelled, kicked off the team, or fail re-election because they deserve to lose, not because their competitors are  better.  

In my list of firing offenses I’m not including the massive blunder (unless it is massive theft!), which may or may not be an offense.That would depend on its consequences and on whether learning from it will  compensate for it over time. Bosses who never give a second chance or who always give a second chance are equally inept.

Laying aside the massive blunder, what's left are habitual behaviors with   consistent negative impact on the business, school, team, or political community. These behaviors, alone or in combination, signal to the employers, faculty, coaches, or electorate that they cannot afford to retain the offender.

So here’s my list, broad enough to cover most situations.

  • Deception. We cannot afford those who deceive us about our own affairs, whether they think it is for our own good or not. This includes bluffing and extravagant promises about future performance. If it is not stopped before a habit develops, the whole enterprise bears an intolerable load of half-truths and finally indefensible lies to compensate for the half-truths.
  • Laziness or Incompetence, which are sometimes behind deception, perhaps more often behind reports that report nothing and expla-nations that explain nothing.
  • Knowing Better. You might sometimes know more than the people you are responsible to, but at decision time you cannot habitually know better than they do.
  • Backstabbing, Grandstanding, Conspiracy, etc. This category covers a pattern of consistently sacrificing the corporate mission to  personal goals or those of a small group. On a team or in a school, it may be a clique; in government, a caucus or special interest.

There are no doubt more, but these have come to mind for the space of this column. In conclusion, three further notes:

  1. Deserving to lose applies only to those who are in place; competitors and applicants may fail to be hired or elected for other reasons, but they haven’t yet demonstrated that they deserve to lose.
  2. Someone who deserves to lose may still win. We see it annually in every team sport: "We was robbed!" At a more consequential level, we learned  that Richard Nixon deserved to lose the 1972 election--but that was after he had won by a landslide.
  3. When someone who deserves to lose still wins, the crisis has been postponed, not cancelled. The habits already at work will continue to do harm to the cost of the business, the school, the team, or the nation. The higher the respon-sibility involved, the greater the cost that others will have to pay.

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