One of the most interesting words I know of is the word severance.

Whenever you hear the word, it is usually in reference to the kind of financial package one receives when leaving an employer.

The word is much older than our current usage. It actually has 15th century French-Anglo origins. It literally means to sever, as in, off-with-the-head. Thanks Charles and Louis.

One of the hardest parts of being a leader is having to let someone go from their position on the team. Whether driven by poor performance or a tough economy, severing a work relationship is never easy.

If you do find yourself in that unenviable position, you might want to consider the following:

  • Make sure the release is justified. Let someone go only for a good reason and as a last resort. The severance should not really come as a surprise, especially if you have communicated and documented things along the way. There is nothing worse than having the rug ripped out from under you when you are not expecting it.
  • Show the proper emotions. As the leader you will set the tone for the final meeting. The longer you have worked together, the more emotional it will be. Be genuine and empathetic. No one wants to be let go by an emotionless jerk. While there is light at the end of the tunnel from knowing the person is leaving, there should come a moment where you emotionally realize it might be an oncoming train. 
  • Treat people the way you would want to be treated. Just because you are parting ways does not mean it has to be personal. In fact, it should never be personal. Like the breakup of a relationship (cue Romeo & Juliet), parting should be “such sweet sorrow.” If you were on the other end of the conversation what would you want (and need) to hear? The answer to that question is probably a good indicator of what you need to say.
  • Get in, get out. Make the conversation quick. The person on the receiving end of the news does not need a long drawn out reason, just the truth.
  • Shoot your own horse. It goes without explanation that severance should not be delegated. A cowboy handles his own business when his horse goes down. If you personally hired the person, then you should be the one to break the news, even if they now answer to someone else. Value the relationship!
  • If you’re going to cut off my arm, don’t start with my hand. That is one of the best H.R. lines I have ever heard. Leadership requires courage. There is no reason to drag things out for months, or even years, when a personnel decision has to be made. Delay only serves to hurt the morale of the rest of the team and the accomplishment of the vision. You can only reassign so many times. Do what you need to do and move on.

Assuming you have gone through the effort of building a great team, parting ways will always be hard. But face the facts, everyone will eventually leave your team … Even you.

If the leaving requires severance, hopefully the above list will help.

Leadership Begins at Home,


What else would you add to my list?

Comment Below …