FBI Director James Comey apparently learned of his firing by President Donald Trump like most of us did: from the news.
At the time, Comey was speaking with bureau employees in the Los Angeles field office when he heard of his firing from a television playing in the background. The now former FBI director laughed, believing the reports were a prank. Shortly afterward, an official letter from Trump that told Comey he was fired was sent to FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The reason for Comey’s dismissal weren’t outlined in that letter, but some have offered explanations, tying the ouster to Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election.
As of last week, the president praised Comey for that exact case.
FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2017
The FBI is currently investigating potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Many people, including in the media and politicians on both side of the aisle, reacted to Comey’s firing with surprise and shock. Anyone who has ever been on either end of this unpleasant experience knows those are not the best results.
While not a perfect example of this ideal scenario, we can look at episodes of NBC’s The Apprentice for how Comey could have been let go in a better way.
In the reality series, teams competed against each other to complete special projects and would come together with judges in a now infamous “boardroom” to discuss how well they worked together and which was the most successful project. Judging panels, led in past seasons by Trump, Martha Stewart, or most recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger, checked in on every team throughout the episode and understood each group’s pain points.
The boardroom scenes, while produced for TV drama, are at least transparent. Contestants entered knowing there’s a chance they could be fired. When teams discuss what went right — and wrong — everyone was present and everyone had the chance to defend their choices.
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The judges deliberated in private. But when it came time for a decision, the host explained how that particular person arrived on the chopping block and swiftly let that person know, “You’re fired.”
While dramatized for TV, and still far from an ideal firing scenario, The Apprentice still stresses some important firing basics no manager can overlook. No one should ever be surprised. Decisions should be made swiftly and in person. No one should ever think they’re the victim of a terrible prank and there should never be any gray area or confusion.
Firing — while difficult — is made easier only through directness. If handled respectfully, only then can everyone get a chance to truly move on.