I’ve been thinking about National Public Radio’s recent firing of Juan Williams for comments he made on Fox News about Muslims.
Many of us will disagree about how offensive his comments were and whether NPR should or shouldn’t have fired Williams. But I hope there’s one thing we CAN agree on: That NPR violated Rule #1 when it comes to terminations — never terminate an employee impulsively or in anger.
It sure looks like NPR did just that. CEO Vivian Shiller acted quickly. She fired Williams via a public announcement, never giving him the chance to explain himself. In doing so she ignited a firestorm of controversy that has deeply hurt her organization. (That’s the same mistake Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made last summer when he fired Shirley Sherrod — before he’d listened to the full transcript of what Sherrod had actually said in her speech.)
What was the big rush?
There are only a few instances when it’s necessary to fire someone on the spot. If they’re threatening violence, sure. If they’re dealing drugs out of their desk. But in the vast majority of cases, you gain nothing by acting too quickly. And you stand to lose a lot.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, where you’re angry at an employee and feel an urgent need to make a powerful statement by firing the person on the spot — STOP! Go back to your office, close the door, take a deep breath, review your file on the person, talk to HR — and then calmly decide what’s the best course of action.
If Shiller had done that, she could have avoided a publicity nightmare. Perhaps she’d have suspended Williams. Or simply reduced his airtime and let his contract run out.
Cool heads make good decisions. Hot heads make bad ones.
Subscribe to the Leadership Blog
Get the latest research on workplace learning with weekly posts delivered to your inbox