Coughlin’s Law: Bury the Dead
People leave, let’s get over it. Gone are the days when a man arrives for work in the factory two days after his high school graduation and leaves forty years later with a gold watch. The American career path hasn’t included this scenario since before Lyndon Johnson took office. Over the last 40 years, American workers and American businesses have had an arrangement: Every man for himself.
For some reason, the most senior leaders of my company just don’t understand this.
We recently had an executive announce he was moving on; he no longer felt like there was a “fit” for him in our organization. He held no ill will for the company, but recent changes just made it difficult for him to continue in his capacity. In reality, he was doing what was best for him and the company. Besides, his employment was always, by law, considered to be “at-will.”
Our senior leadership was immediately filled with a strange hatred for this “traitor.” Like Bo Schembechler uttering that “a Michigan Man will coach Michigan” when then Michigan basketball coach Bill Frieder was talking to Arizona State in 1989, and Bo swiftly fired him (assistant coach Steve Fisher took over and won the national championship that season), our senior leadership began to treat this previously invaluable executive as some sort of leper. He became persona non grata overnight.
There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys. There’s only you and me and we just disagree. – Dave Mason
The Company Owes You Nothing
It’s important to note that my company’s leadership has eliminated more than one thousand jobs over the last fifteen months amid the current recession. This doesn’t make them villains; they did this in the best interest of the shareholders. This, you see, is their duty.
The one thousand plus newly unemployed soles may not like it, but the company owed them nothing. There was no contract between the parties that guaranteed a lifetime of employment. There couldn’t be; not if we want businesses to succeed and create jobs and pay taxes. (It’s important to note that nearly every one of those who were laid off received severance packages better than that which they were due. The company did right by these employees.)
You Owe the Company Nothing
Just as your at-will employment can be terminated by the company for no cause, you have the right to walk when you want. You owe them nothing. The minute you begin to think differently, it’s time for you to consider a career change.
While on the payroll – and especially when you’re in a leadership position – you owe your company your best efforts, which include leading with integrity. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that your integrity is critical to delivering great leadership. A duplicitous heart lacks integrity, and you have to be dedicated to your company’s well-being if you expect to be taken seriously as a leader.
That said, the minute you’re ready to go, you need to go, and you need not look back. It’s just sad that the alleged mature leaders in your company will likely treat you as someone taking part in some strange industrial espionage ritual.
Why Can’t Life Imitate Art?
Bryan Brown’s Doug Coughlin said it best in 1988’s Cocktail: “Coughlin’s Law: Bury the dead. They stink up the joint.” Companies and leaders need to figure this out and get over the natural turnover that occurs in American business today. People leave, it doesn’t make them the enemy. It does, however, make you look like an ass when you overreact to it.