Why Getting Fired is a Good Thing!

I was recently asked to provide a reference for someone. This individual is great at what they do and I provided many positive remarks. However, the person who called me was a good interviewer and he asked some probing questions about the candidate. As I responded to one of the questions, I was surprised to hear myself say, “She’s great but would become an amazing leader if she would be fired”.

While my response may sound mean-spirited, I can assure you that it was not. About 9 years ago I was fired (or released if you prefer the comfort of a euphemism) so my comment was rooted in personal experience. I learned that the person I was speaking to had also been fired and he knew exactly what I meant. My comment meant that being fired can teach you things that no other experience can. In many ways, being fired is something that I wish on no one. Conversely, I made the above comment because I have learned firsthand that being fired has made me a better person.

To be clear, I’m not talking about being fired because of embezzlement or some other criminal activity. Rather, I am referring to the kind of firing that makes you sit up straight as your dreams and ambitions crash around your ankles. The kind of firing that causes deep soul-searching and sleepless nights. The kind of firing that makes you reconsider numerous assumptions about life, work and your career that no longer work. I’m talking about the kind of firing that shapes and refines you like a fire refines gold.

Here are three lessons that a good firing can teach us:

  1. You are not indispensable: Humility is easy to speak about and difficult to practice. At some point, most of us get caught up in the lie that we are indispensable. We are not. Read that three-word sentence again – it’s important. I have learned that I gravitate to genuinely humble people. In fact, I want to be that kind of person. Being fired was a deep notch in the growth of my tree of humility.
  2. Adversity reveals character: When we shine a bright light on object it often reveals the flaws. Firing is a bright light. A really bright light! Some people respond to this light by trying to dim it and hide their imperfections. Others choose to humbly stand under the light, inspect their flaws and work to improve them. The adversity of a good firing will reveal your character. Your response (hiding or inspecting) will determine if it also develops your character.
  3. Why do you do what you do? We sometimes use the metaphors of ‘climbing the ladder’, ‘hopping back on the hamster wheel’ or ‘the road to success’ to explain our work. However, sometimes we get stuck doing what we do because it’s what we do. A good firing allows you to step back and re-examine why. I have spent large portions of the last two weeks with four different toddlers. All of them constantly use the word why. As parents, we speak about ‘growing out of this phase’. I wonder if we have it wrong. Why may be the most important question we can ask. If so, it’s a phase we should never grow out of!

Firing does not need to occur in the difficult way that I experienced. I have met three people in the last month who have fired, or are considering firing themselves! This courageous act often stems from a realization of one of the following things: you need change, you are under-performing, your company has changed, you are ready for new challenges or that you have successfully replaced yourself and need to move on.

I no longer mind telling people I was fired because I have learned to be thankful for it. Without doubt, I am a better person because of it. If you get fired, hang on!  If you are thinking of firing yourself, keep asking why. A good firing can teach you a lot of things.

Note: In a recent blog I spoke about how Patrick Pichette fired himself from Google. You can access this content here.


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Photo Credit

The Future of Higher Education: Three Trends

While predicting the future is desirable, it is an elusive exercise. However, careful observation of emerging trends can provide us with early indicators of future change. Doing so equips us to be future-ready. Earlier this month I was privileged to speak at a Christian higher education conference. The following three educational trends are all indicators of significant future change.

Shifting demographics

A decade ago demographic data revealed significant declines in the total number of youth who would pursue post-secondary education. This data also revealed a decline in the percentage of Anglo students which has been a primary market for Christian colleges and universities. This population bubble has burst and there simply aren’t as many students as we once had.

We are currently living amidst the tough realization of this trend. My conversations revealed that an estimated 30-40% of attendees are facing enrollment stagnation or decline. Since most Christian institutions derive between 75-90% of their budgets from student tuition, this decline is a significant harbinger of change.

This realized trend is a perfect example of what occurs if we do ‘business as usual’ in a time of significant market shifts. Here are a few examples of what institutions have done to address this shift: adult markets, cultural diversity, re-assessing the need for growth, right-sizing operations and urban campuses.

Focus on Value

Statistics demonstrate that there is a growing gap between rich and poor in North America. This is often referred to as the ‘shrinking middle class’. As a result, society is less likely to invest in things which are good but not critical. The heart-and-soul of Christian higher education has been this middle class so this is going to have a significant impact. We are going to have to determine what we need to do differently in order to move from being an ‘optional’ to an ‘essential’ educational option. Institutions have utilized some of the following strategies to address the value proposition gap: Graduation or employment guarantees, tuition freezes, increases in financial awards, alumni success stories and adding programs with tangible employment focus.

A New Business Model

“We are using far more adjunct professors than we used to”. While this statement seems innocuous, it reveals a significant problem in our educational business model – the need to cut educational delivery costs.

The American Association of University Professors reports that adjuncts compose 70% of college instructors. In 1975 that number was 43% (Belkin & Korn). An adjunct salary is approximately $25,000 per year compared to a full-time professor average of $84,000 (Kingdale). It is obvious how adjuncts benefit an institutions financial situation. I am not going to address the pros and cons of this shift which are rooted in arguments of efficiency vs. effectiveness. However, I do believe that this shift signals a change in the economic model of higher education – things are not business-as-usual. I do not have a nice list of tried-and-trued remedies for this trend and welcome your insights on how this issue could be resolved.

The pioneer futurist Pierre Wack once said, “In our times of rapid change and discontinuity, crisis of perception – the inability to see a novel reality emerging by being locked in obsolete assumptions – has become the main cause of strategic failure”. The trends of shifting demographics, new business models and the need for value are shaping our future educational context and we must respond. We cannot predict the future. But we can anticipate it.


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

References

Douglas Belkin & Melissa Korn. The Wall Street Journal.

Tyler Kingdale. The Huffington Post.

Becoming a Future-Ready Organization: Moving Your Dot

This week I have the privilege of conducting some workshops with higher education professionals in Florida at the NACCAP ‘15 conference. I will be speaking about developing organizations which are resilient amidst change. Today’s blog shares three Future-Ready principles that we will be speaking about.

Principle 1: Strategy defines your preferred future.

When you make a plan, you place an invisible dot in the future that says, “I want to be here at a defined time”. Sometimes this dot is in the near future such as picking up the kids from school in an hour. Conversely, when an organization sets a five year strategy in place, they are placing their dot in the distant future. Wherever it is, your dot defines your preferred future. Future-Ready organizations have a deep understanding of their preferred future and can tell a robust story about their dot.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Peter Drucker

Principle 2: We have three ways by which we define our preferred future.

Research reveals that individuals view things through one of three time orientations; the past, the present or the future. If you have a past orientation, you make plans by assessing what can be learned from history. Those with a present orientation evaluate their current circumstances in order to make decisions. If you have a future orientation, you think and dream about the future before you make plans. Each of these orientations is valuable for different reasons. As a result, good plans involve all three of these perspectives. Effective leaders learn from the past, leverage the present and prepare for the future.

“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are”. Anais Nin

Principle 3: The uncertainty of your preferred future increases as your time horizon increases.

The further your invisible dot is from today, the greater the uncertainty about whether or how it can be achieved. Many things can occur which will affect your plans to pick up the kids from school in an hour. However, this uncertainty is significantly magnified if you stretch your time horizon to 3, 5 or 10 years. This means that Future-Ready organizations must embrace uncertainty and develop the capacity to quickly adjust their dot when unexpected changed occur. This is called strategic agility. It is not the ability to know the future, but rather, the ability to anticipate and respond to it more quickly than others do!

“Change is the way that the future invades our lives. Leadership is the way that we invade our future”. Alvin Toffler, Susan Komives.

Change is inevitable! However, successful organizations invade the future by understanding and applying these three principles. Strategic efforts should define your preferred future. Your time orientation affects how we think and plan for the future. Finally, longer time horizons have higher uncertainty. Through the use of strategic foresight, organizations can develop the capacity to make adjustments when things affect our preferred future. The ability to more dots quickly will be a hallmark of effective organizations in the 21st century!


Head Shot

Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

Photo Credit