The Right Choice

I love this place.  The quiet beauty – the clear water that reflected the vista with the subtly of an artist’s eye – the sounds of nature soothing your soul – the smell of life everywhere.  This was my place – in recent years, I had come here every time I faced a challenging decision.  Today was no different.

Bill had been a part of my team for only three months.  He was a childhood friend of my boss and was in desperate need of a job.  He had never worked in corporate purchasing and despite his best efforts, he had made some major mistakes that almost cost the company to default on two important contracts.  It didn’t help that everyone seemed to know that he was hired because of ‘privilege’ and not because he was the best person for the job.  So, no one was willing to assist him – they almost took pleasure in seeing him fail. I had spoken with the team about my disappointment in their behavior.  They reminded me that Bill was hired as a senior buyer – a position that normally would have been filled internally by a promotion to the most deserving of the team.  Betty deserved that promotion and they resented the ‘big boss’ for the disrespect he had shown our important mission.

I understood their anger but reminded them that if Bill failed, we would all fail.  Noble statement but the resentment hung thick in the air.  I did my best to answer his questions, but with meetings, planning, bid reviews, negotiations, and contract discussions, my time was limited.  Bill was failing and the upper-level management was now very aware of it. So, Tom called me to his office.

“You know I was trying to help an old friend when I hired Bill and put him in your department.  Well, it is just not working out.  Tomorrow, I will call Bill and you to my office and I want you to fire him.  I will fain a weak protest but will finally concede that it is your department and I have to trust your decision.  That way, I come off as the good guy and can save the friendship since our wives are very close.”

I took a deep breath, “But he still has three months left on his probation period.  Let me see if I can juggle my schedule and help him turn this situation around.  Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do?”

“Fired tomorrow – that’s why you get the big bucks.  Now, excuse me, I have a tee time with the CEO.  Time for me to go and lose a game I am so good at just so he can feel good about himself,” and with that, he left me sitting in his office.

So here a stand – staring into the water – knowing just how bad things are going to be the next day.  But as Tom said, this is why I get paid the big bucks.

The next day, I arrived at the office early so I could clear as much as possible from my calendar.  Then my phone rang – I saw Tom’s name appear on the screen – it was time.  I picked up the phone and told him we would be there in a minute.

“Bill,” I said, “could you come with me.  We have a meeting with Mr. Smith.”  The smile on his face told that he was amused to hear someone refer to his friend as Mister.

Tom was sitting behind his desk and motioned for us to take the two seats facing him. With that, he gave me a subtle nod to let me know that I was to do the talking.

“Bill,” I began, “it is painfully obvious that your background is not in purchasing.  As you know, some of your mistakes have almost been very costly and luckily, other team members were able to bail our department out of a near disaster.”

The smile was now gone from Bill’s face.  I could see that with each word, he was being gripped with fear.  He was now looking at Tom and then looking at me as if to get his friend to make the inevitable stop.

“I want you to know, that I take full responsibility for your lack of progress.  Therefore, starting today, I will be working with you to see if we cannot bring you up to speed and make you successful.  You must understand – you only have three months left on your probation period so it may require us to work late some nights.  But I promise you, I will give you every bit of my knowledge and experience.  In return, give me your promise that you will give me your very best.  Do that and I don’t think we will be back in Mr. Smith’s office three months from now.”

Bill jumped to his feet and took my hand.  He began shaking it up and down, “I promise – I promise.  Thank you.”

“Now go get all your outstanding projects and bring them to my office.  I will be there in just a minute.”

When the door closed, Tom was on his feet, “I told you to fire him!  Why did you disobey me?!”

I turned and walked to the door, opened it, and turned around.  “Because it was the right thing to do.”


Len Bernat
Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.

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  1. I believe you made the right decision by giving Bill another chance and taking responsibility for his improvement. Now he knows exactly what he’s up to and he’ll have to work hard to make things better.
    However, when we have to make a decision, our intuition and our feelings about this situation will have a considerable influence. If not about the decision, at least about how we will feel after making it. Faced with various options, it is normal that one is left with the doubt of what is correct or not; the only thing we can do in this sense is to let time pass, see what happens and correct where necessary.
    I would also add that it is essential to have the opportunity to isolate oneself from everything and everyone, to be able to think or reflect by being alone on important decisions to make.

    • Aldo – Being a leader means that at times, you have to weigh doing the right thing against the pressures of the corporate leadership. I always have and always will do the right thing. Your insights clearly demonstrate why that is important. Thank you, as always, for giving depth to my writing.

    • Thanks, Larry. The reason I love telling stories is that wisdom can be imparted in a memorable manner.