Future of Leadership – February 2020

Welcome to the New Year!

Welcome to the inaugural Future of Leadership monthly letter.

Every month I will be going deeper on a fundamental concept for the future of leadership. Get the newsletter by signing up in the footer below.


Fire Good People

How do you fire someone who is good at their job? 

This whole thing with Jason Garrett bothers me. 

Jason Garrett, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was fired a few weeks ago. He was a good head coach. 

Consider how well the Cowboys did this year. 

They were 8-8 for the 2019 NFL season. Not their best year but that record tied or beat 19 other teams out of all 32.  

Garrett’s overall record for the past nine seasons was 85 wins and 67 losses, a winning record. 

In only one season under Garrett’s tenure did the Cowboys finish under .500. 

Sure, the Cowboys had playoff troubles since Garrett took over. They never moved past any of their second round playoff games. 

But Garrett is a purebred Cowboy. He had been a part of the organization in some way for 28 years!

Jason Garrett is rock solid. Jason Garrett is a good guy. 

How do you arrive at the decision to fire somebody who is good? 

If you have ever needed to terminate someone, then there is truth you know. The whole process is awful. It’s awful when the person deserves to be fired. It’s more awful when they don’t.

In the moment how do move past the forthcoming awful and credibly arrive at that decision?

I think I know.

My bet is that the thinking was like this: “If we want to be great, then we have to stop being good.”

It one of those motivational poster statements that could just as easily be nonsense as it could be inspirational. It’s also a statement with a built in problem.

When you fire somebody who is good, all you do is clear the path for somebody else that *might* be great. 

It’s not a guarantee. It’s a huge gamble. 

To make that bet you have to be “all-in” on what you want. And I mean, all-in. 

You have to be willing to part ways with somebody you can count on, who is reliable, who is good at their job, who knows the history, who you know intimately, who… (remind me why we are doing this again?)

You have to battle the suffocating self doubt and face the annoying questions. 

“What if next season is the one?”

“What if we get somebody who is even worse?”

“What if (add your own doubts here).”

What bothers me about this situation with Jason Garrett (and other situations like this) is the balance of so many unknowns against one known. 

All we know for sure is that we are giving up something good. Everything else? Unknown.

So how do you do it?

It’s our only response to one irritating imp of a question.

What could we be?

We can always find good people for our teams. There will always be somebody who will take low pay and just meet expectations.

But if you really want something more, if you believe there is more to be had, then you have to set fire to anything and everything that is merely good.

Or in this case, simply fire the good to make way for great. 


by Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan is the Head Coach at Sandcastle Company, a Seattle-based leadership training organization. His first book, Future Leader: Rebooting Leadership to Win the Millennial and Tech Future [link], is now available. Jonathan regularly writes and speaks about The New Leader Way, leadership resilience, and the future of work. He has years of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, a master's degree from Seattle University, and professional coach training from the University of Miami.
Published on January 31, 2020

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