10 Excuses Leaders Lean On for Not Letting Go of Employees and 8 Things to Keep in Mind in Order to Say Goodbye

Every top business professional knows the logic behind Jim Collin’s phrase ‘get the wrong people off the bus.’ They also know that one of the key reasons executives are released from their jobs is when they fail to lead the people on their teams to deliver against expectations. So why is it then that one of the most difficult things for a good leader to do is to let go of underperformers?


See if one of these common ‘excuses’ resonates with a situation you may have experienced:

  • There’s no way I can survive with that open position for six to eight weeks.
  • Even if I search for a new person, I may not find someone better.
  • I am already working this person too many hours, therefore mistakes and poor attitude are bound to happen.
  • I am so busy myself that I may not be giving good direction or setting clear enough expectations.
  • They do some things really great, so maybe I can just tolerate/work around the areas that are lacking.
  • They don’t create any waves for me so perhaps with more direction/mentoring/training/time they will improve performance.
  • If I look at the documentation and feedback from others, I don’t have enough in writing to validate how they are falling short – and to collect it sure seems like a lot of work.
  • They actually can do a decent job, it’s just when they bring in the poor attitude/take unexpected days off/come in late/make excuses that it’s frustrating…but again, when they work it’s all good.
  • I don’t have the time/I’ll be out of the office too much/the deadlines are too critical to manage a performance improvement plan right now.
  • It’s easier to hold on to them and hope they leave on their own than risk a lawsuit if they are terminated incorrectly.


Ending a relationship with an employee will always be uncomfortable and inconvenient for all involved, but good leaders step up to what must be done. So think of these eight things the next time you are bargaining with yourself that maybe, just maybe things will get better with your poor performer:

  • Deliver on the job you own – You have a commitment to operational effectiveness, customer service and profits and it includes management of talent, culture and outcomes.
  • Coach and mentor only to the point of no progress – Once a person ceases to progress or frankly ‘get a clue’ then you can do no more and you owe them no more.
  • Always tie conversations back to the job description, assigned duties and results – Tying conversations in to the written expectations of a defined role or most recent performance review helps remove a little of the ‘he said, she said’ and subjective opinions.
  • Don’t risk demotivating the good team members – If you are frustrated then others are too.
  • Remain in neutral, but make the point known – Hostility on your part will only end up being a bad reflection on you. Be fair in conversations and even in written documentation.
  • Get over the guilt – Your job is your job and their job is their job. If they can’t perform their job at the expected level and you have discussed it and documented it then they must own what happens next.
  • You need to make the move when the facts support it, not when the timing is right – When you have a window of opportunity with the right documentation then you have to make the move even if the timing is tough. If you don’t then the situation can drag on for months and then it will be even more difficult to explain it to the employee.
  • Determine risks and get expert counsel – Once you know the end is near seek expertise advice to confirm if you have the right documentation or if you need to do more.


Recognize that even with the right conversations and documentation most people will take the position that they didn’t know it was coming or that you have done something unfair. I have actually had an employee sit before me and say “I guess we agree to disagree” as if she was going to walk back to her desk and resume working. I have also had an employee escorted out, only to return having changed into a business suit and ask for her job back as if it was all just a simple misunderstanding.


Leadership is tough and letting go of people is hard . . . and sad and frustrating and time consuming and not without risks. But as an executive committed to excellence you can and must do it. Remember that the good people on your team are counting on it as well.

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