Dead Dogs and Hurdles

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Barbara Corcoran had a chance to test that aphorism this week after her LinkedIn blog post entitled “Shoot the Dogs Early” went viral.  In her post, Corcoran described her business practice of firing 25% of her sales force each year.  She described with apparent pride the firing technique she’d honed over the years that included catching the soon-to-be-unemployed unawares on a Friday afternoon and having another manager nearby for backup.  She also told how she fired negative people “the minute I spot them”.

Not surprisingly, there was some comment about the post from, oh… everyone, including dog lovers.  The sentiment from the business community was well-represented by Bruce Kasanoff in his rejoinder “Don’t ever Shoot a Dog!“.  Kasanoff noted that any hiring process that had an annual failure rate of 25% was clearly broken and a management approach that featured Friday afternoon ambushes and instant firings was even more clearly dysfunctional.  Corcoran gave a follow up interview in which she tried to put a positive spin on her comments, but the damage was done.  (Google “Images for lipstick on a pig”.)

I’ve encountered pseudo-Corcorans before, especially in college.  There is a subset of teachers who feel their role is to cull the herd to keep the run-of-the-mill wannabes from getting in the way of the elite superstars of tomorrow.  Such teachers set up hurdles, note those that stumble and then show them the door.  I had a problem with this attitude, in part because I was a habitual stumbler.  Perhaps I was naive, but I felt the role of teachers was to raise the students up to the level of the hurdle.  Teachers should be measured by their students.

Similarly, employees should be measured by their supervisors.  It’s easy to point out another’s shortcomings, but much harder to work together to overcome those shortcomings.  It’s a fundamental rule of leadership: once you become a supervisor  you are judged, not by your performance, but by the performance of those you lead.  The successful leader’s role is not to separate wheat from chaff, but transform chaff into wheat. Not only does this open the door for true leadership, but no dogs get shot and no pigs are molested.  A good day all around.

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