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The Day Job – Let them go


     Someone came to me the other day with a request I hadn’t heard before. He wanted me to contact an old boss for one of his people and change a recommendation from over a year ago. The business rules have changed since then, and the person in question wasn’t satisfied with that old document. When I looked into the whole of it, the person’s career opportunities were no different with the old paper or a new one. No single option for this young man had been lost, and he was thinking of re-enlisting. Sadly, it was unreasonable to reach back to a previous boss to change a piece of paper that, at the time, was the standard for everyone in the same situation. 

     So, I say no, and the response was: “But, he might not stay in. He might get out if this isn’t changed.”

     I see a lot of this sort of thing: If this person doesn’t get (fill in the blank) he’ll leave.

     This isn’t a uniquely military statement, I know that much. Without going on some big rant about entitlement and a person’s want for some school, duty station, bonus, or some other measurable, I’m forced to think back on my own darker times. I was that guy once. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. If I don’t get that location, I’ll get out. If I don’t get that next school, or promotion, or recommendation, I’ll get out.

     I refuse to judge the people asking for the same things now, but the organization and its business rules have changed. Back when I was saying these sorts of things, I could hold out and negotiate because we didn’t have the retention we do now. Our force was bigger, and we needed people. Holding out and making some people sweat my decision was a normal practice. Nowadays, that’s not the case.

     More importantly, if someone wants to leave for whatever reason, that’s an adult decision and that person should be allowed to make it. There are plenty of people who leave and become successful, they’re just fine all on their own, without all the structure and support we have to offer. There are a lot more people doing well outside the military than inside.

     We see the same thing with the messy side of discipline. Someone has done something colossally dumb, and now I need to make a recommendation on an appropriate punishment. Over the years, at numerous places around the world, I’ve recommended the harsher options, and there’s the same argument. “But, he’ll no longer be eligible to stay in when it’s time for him to re-enlist! He’ll be put out!”

In both situations I’ve mentioned here, my response is the same: That’s fine.

     And no, I’m not callous. I want these people to stay. They’re trained, they’re talented, and we’ll often go with a gap until a new person arrives if it’s an unexpected loss. I understand why their advocate raises these concerns, and it’s exactly what I want those people to do.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years: Let them go.

     I won’t say it’s always good. Some addition is truly by subtraction, but more often than not, good people have to make the decision to stay or move on all by themselves, and I need to let that decision happen naturally.

     I will, of course, do everything I can to make sure that person can make the most informed decision, especially when it seems to be some emotional response to a specific incident. Sadly, even when I think it’s the wrong decision for a man or woman to make, it’s likely because I want them to be successful. I know more about making that happen with the language I understand, which is from within the organization.

     One more thing to add, another reason why I say it’s fine when a person chooses to leave. We need them to. Not everyone can stay forever, not even me. As a person leaves, either at the end of a full career or to move on to other goals, someone else gets to enter. And at my level, other people’s chances to promote are based on me leaving this position so someone else can be promoted to it. People leaving when the time is right allows new people to enter and those already in to move up.

     So when people want to leave, let them go. When they threaten to leave if they don’t get something, it’s likely not something you have to give anyway. If the end point is that they choose to leave, then don’t worry. They’ll be fine, and so will you.

– Are you fighting to keep certain people because it’s best for them, or best for you?

– When people threaten to leave, are they honestly ready to go? Do they have a real plan?

Have a great week out there.

– JT

My good thing: Back in San Diego after a good week away, and I finally have my vacation dates sorted out.

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