Don was the international ministries director working from the US office of a mid-size media ministry. He had oversight of 9 strategic ministry centers overseas. As he was sitting at his desk engaged in his routine leadership responsibilities, he received a call from the administrative assistant of the ministry’s CEO. He was asked to come to the CEOs office for an unannounced personal meeting. Since the CEO was rather new at his post, having come on board only months previously, Don figured he was being called to help shed light on some aspect of the ministry. Image the surprise – and horror – when the CEO curtly informed Don that he was being terminated immediately, and was to leave the building within the hour. He was instructed not to touch his computer upon return to his office, but to simply pick up his personal belongings and exit the building.
Bill’s termination experience was similar. In his position as the president of an innovative church-planting mission, he was working in his executive office when the chairman of the board unexpectedly dropped in. Bill was told that in a closed board meeting held the night before, it had been decided to release him from his position and the mission. Bill was given the rest of the day in his office to wrap things up, and then escorted to the door at closing for the last time.
At another mission, there was a large-scale surprise layoff. The Monday after a normally scheduled weekend board meeting, seven home staff middle-management workers were called into the director’s office in succession and told over the course of fifteen minutes each that they were being terminated effective immediately. While they were being informed of their dismissal, a team of tech workers was systematically going from office to office dismantling their computers. Each manager was told that they had a half hour to leave the building, and upon returning to their office or cubicle, each discovered their computer either gone or rendered inaccessible. Thus they were unable to access any personal information they would have liked to have gathered before departing from the mission office.
All of the above stories are true. Names have been changed for obvious reasons. More similar stories could be related, but you get the point: even as a mission leader – no matter what level of leadership or management – you are susceptible to being blind-sided by an “out-of-the-blue” termination at any moment. None of us are exempt. Some of those mentioned in the instances above were “on support,” having previously served overseas and thus considered themselves immune to such an abrupt severance. They were mistaken.
The common thread I hear from ”de-leadered” leaders when an unexpected termination takes place is, “I wasn’t even allowed to get back to my computer.” They were rendered powerless. The surprise termination was bad enough, but not being permitted access to their personal files or professional contact lists made the terminee feel “virtually” orphaned, if not violated. If they had had an inkling that dismissal was imminent, they would have done something in advance to safeguard and have access to their personal information files.
Smart leaders back-up! In this day of instant firings, with scant opportunity of accessing one’s electronic data, smart leaders back-up. They back-up their files – and they do it frequently. Whether it be on thumb drives, external portable drives or in the “cloud,” if one doesn’t want to be caught leaving the building empty-handed, data needs to be stored at an alternate location. Smart leaders back-up their personal and non-sensitive professional data off site. I have noticed that the most likely time a leader gets terminated is immediately following a board meeting. The prudent time to back-up is the week before a scheduled meeting. (The morality of what rightfully to preserve remotely is an ethical topic for another blog).
Now, the villain that has precipitated this unwanted crisis is the technological age in which we live. As much as we want to blame it on a personality or even an unchristian mentality on the part of those doing the firing, we dare not. It is sensible for governing boards and CEOs to not allow just-terminated leaders to have access to electronic devices (like office computers, notebooks, etc.) to avoid potential harm to the organization. All kinds of havoc can be wrecked in just a few moments by access to an organization’s database. Sadly, we live in an age of tension between prudent managerial acumen and common Christian graces that are difficult to balance when much is at stake.
So rather than pointing fingers and placing blame and bemoaning how unChrist-like a mission leader has been abruptly fired, the prudent leader proactively prepares in advance. Smart leaders will back-up everything that is vital to their wellbeing as if knowing he/she would be out of a job tomorrow. Take my advice – you just may be.