In the Navy we see it all too often, a Commanding Officer relieved for cause. For those not in the military, that is merely a kind way of saying, “You’re fired!”. Whether it is misconduct, a lack of personal integrity, incompetence, or blatant disregard of direction from senior Commanders if someone is relieved for cause it is “due to loss of confidence in his/her ability to Command.”  Senior Commanders have the authority to relieve a subordinate Commanding Officer and have the responsibility to do just that when confidence is lost, but what happens when the team serving below this leader has lost confidence in their senior’s ability to Command? We don’t have that authority or do we? In my experience, we have three options:

  1. We can tactfully make them aware of our observations and provide recommendations on how they might want to change their approach. This comes with some risk, as one never knows how even the most constructive of feedback is received.
  2. We can engage a third party and provide similar insights by proxy, whether that be a climate survey or an individual who we trust that might be better positioned to communicate the message.
  3. We can submit a formal complaint in hopes of giving a reason for someone in authority to conduct an investigation and fix the problem.

Over the last year, I have personally executed both option 1 and option 2 in my current command, and I have served as that proxy for members of another command. I have never personally been a part of, nor do I wish to experience option 3. That said, it is a necessary course of action when options 1 and 2 fail to achieve the results we expect. Unfortunately, I have been recently made aware of leadership practices outside of my current command that make option 3 necessary. As I reflect on experiences closer to home, I can’t help but realize that there is a 4th option, that of firing our boss.

Some may say that firing our boss is nothing more than quitting, and I guess to a certain extent that may be true. When we quit something we leave it, we stop doing it, or we give up. The actions we take prior to our decision to do any of those things make all of the difference.  If we execute options 1, 2 and/or 3 to no avail, is it us who quit? Was it the system? Or was it the leader who quit? As I type these words, my memory goes back to a scene in the movie “All The Right Moves” in which Tom Cruise’s character (a high school football player) engages his coach at the end of the big game, which they lost. The coach accuses the player of quitting on a play that ultimately cost the team the game. The player replies, rather passionately, “We didn’t quit, you quit!” That scene represents the storyline of the movie, a coach who holds the team back and has a special interest in holding back one specific member of the team. That storyline plays out many places each day in many places and many accept it. We decide to wait out that leader, we try to convince ourselves that fulfillment and personal enjoyment isn’t a requirement for the 10+ hours we spend at work each day, or we make ourselves believe that whatever opportunity behind door number two is likely just as bad. I am certain we have all attempted the wait out approach and some of us are more patient than others. That said many people refuse to accept a work environment that isn’t fulfilling, yet aren’t ready to pursue the abundance of opportunities elsewhere.

So how do we fire our boss?  How about the same way that subordinates are fired, by letter…

Dear Sir/Ma’am,

We must inform you that after numerous attempts to help you to grow into the leader we need, a command climate survey that helped us to understand how to focus our improvement efforts, and recommendations on how to both address our most critical challenges and  seize our most significant opportunities, you have shown no visible interest in effectively leading our team. Months ago you had stated your intent to make your commitment to the employees you claim to value visible through action, to invest in the development of the team who remains focused on leading with you, and to lead strategically. We have attempted to work with you in every way possible and remained both hopeful and optimistic for far too long, but you clearly are not interested. We are tired of being held back by you. We are tired of being less than the team we aspire to become. We have lost confidence in your ability to lead us.

This leaves us with no choice but to tell you that your employment is terminated effective immediately. Please inform your direct senior of our decision.  We are sure that this will come as a surprise to him because your deliberate focus on satisfying his tasking at the expense of the team undoubtedly has him believing you are the leader we know you are not.

The Team You Chose Not To Lead

I don’t believe that anyone will write a letter like this, let alone deliver such a message and that is unfortunate. Instead, we will choose to accept our circumstances, convincing ourselves that it is OK or that we brought it upon ourselves. That bothers me tremendously. The other likely alternative is to quit, which I believe to be far more admirable than acceptance and assimilation. I can assure that when I find myself in this situation I will not quit, at least not before ensuring that my boss knows that he quit on us.

  • Are you getting the leadership you deserve?
  • What course of action will you take when you aren’t?
  • How are you helping your seniors to become the type of leader you and your team deserve?