Experts on what to do if you’re canned like the Secretary of State
Updated: March 14, 2018
Rex is out.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was terminated by his post yesterday, without meeting with President Donald Trump. America’s top diplomat had been on a goodwill tour of Africa and was canned just hours after he landed back in the United States, according to numerous reports.
Tillerson’s unceremonious firing by tweet comes after months of speculation that CIA director Mike Pompeo would take over the role. The new secretary-designate has a rapport with Trump that the former ExxonMobil chief never developed, His termination under the public eye is not unlike that of former FBI director James Comey, who was sacked without notice by the President in May, and one-time White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Comey originally thought news of his firing was a joke and television cameras tracked his every move thereafter, even airing footage of his plane on a tarmac.
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
The trio’s sudden firings will sound familiar to PR exec Scott Emalfarb. Four years ago, Emalfarb received a phone call from his company’s HR department. Thirty minutes later, he was packing his belongings into a box with a HR exec waiting to escort him out, a scene that every colleague on his team saw.
“It was kind of embarrassing and a little juvenile,” says Emalfarb, now 34 and the president of Fresh Content Society, a Chicago social media marketing firm.
They join a long list of people who’ve been canned in plain sight. Former Vogue editor-in-chief Grace Mirabella famously found out that she’d been let go in 1988 via a TV news report. AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong fired a top employee during a conference call in 2013, when the staffer tried snapping his photo (Armstrong later apologized for being too callous.)
If struck by public misfortune, workplace experts recommend being calm. “Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’ll be ok,” says Eden Abrahams, managing partner at Clear Path Executive Coaching. Take the high road and resist striking back publicly, at least immediately. “Put some time in between what was said to you and your overall reaction,” advises Elaine Swann, author of “Let Crazy Be Crazy,” a guide to dealing with rude people.
In some cases—particularly if you’re a senior exec or public figure like Bannon—issuing a brief statement might be appropriate. “It’s nice to thank your team members and colleagues for the great experience that you’ve had,” Abrahams says. “That’s especially if you have a lot of longtime friends and colleagues, who will have a lot of concern and worry for you.”
One good public example to model is Sree Sreenivasan, who was let go as chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He posted a gracious note on social media about his three years at the Met, admitted he had no immediate career plans and invited friends to hang out with him. “He turned it into a very transparent process and wound up owning the narrative,” Abrahams says.
Experts are also adamant that managers shouldn’t emulate President Trump’s firing of Comey when they have to let an employee go. “It’s wrong to make a public statement,” says Swann. “You should always tell the employee first.”
— sree sreenivasan 谢瑞睿 (@sree) June 17, 2016
The immediate bipartisan backlash against Trump is a big reason why. “The court of social media is quick to condemn if they think the firing is a public hatchet job,” notes Abrahams. “It’s a boomerang and makes the company look bad.”
This story was edited on March 14, 2018 with news of Rex Tillerson’s departure.
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