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I saw something remarkable on television last week. Unbelievably, it was on the NBC show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Now wait a minute…..hang on for an explanation before you tune me out.

I’ll admit up front that I’m not a Donald Trump fan. Truth be told, I find him arrogant, pompous and self-righteous, plus I think his show is just sensationalized reality TV. I only tuned in out of morbid curiosity to see how Captain Sig Hansen would fare as I’m a frequent watcher of “Most Dangerous Catch” reruns on Hulu. He’s a “take no crap” kind of guy, and I wanted to see how that type of persona would play out in a competitive freak show like ” The Apprentice.” Think of it as going to a car race for the sole purpose of seeing someone crash and burn.

Surprisingly, what I watched play out at the end of the show that night totally caught me off guard.

Terrell Owens, Johnny Damon and Ian Ziering (of “Sharknado” fame) were in the board room with The Don hashing out the results of a successful fund raising project. Even though the finances raised by both groups were significant in total ($600,000), it was still not enough to beat the opposing team. In fact, they only lost the victory by a mere $2500.00.

Ziering, the assigned Project Manager, was hesitant to place blame on one particular individual for the failure to win the challenge of the week. After much discussion and a bit of badgering from Trump, he reluctantly revealed that Owens raised the smallest amount of donations from his network. Without so much as making a move or adjusting his awful comb-over, Trump summarily fired Owens, but not before telling him how impressed he was with his efforts during his time on the show. Impressions aside, someone’s gotta go in Trump’s world, and Owens was the sacrificial lamb.

If you know anything about Terrell Owens (or as he is known – T.O), you are familiar with the problems that have plagued him as he moved from team to team in the National Football League. Known to be flamboyant and outspoken, his on-and-off-the-field antics have cost him and his teams a small fortune thanks to fines handed down by the NFL. His incredible talent and the public relations nightmare that followed him were a package deal.

As the trio was leaving the boardroom, Ziering stopped Owens just short of the lobby in plain sight of Trump and his minion advisers. Quietly and barely audible to the microphones, Ziering told Owens:

(inaudible) the future holds for you. It’s as bright as you want it to be. You’ve got amazing potential. And I know…your future…it’s where you’ll deliver. It’s what’s inside of you. You showed everybody.”

Even Trump and his advisers seemed surprised and commented to one another about what they’d just witnessed – an unexpected act of honor. Ziering was clearly uncomfortable during the meeting and visibly hated to throw a member of his team under the bus in order to save his own hide. However, sheer numbers say it all in Trumpland, and Owens lost because his portion of the fundraiser was so far off the mark compared to what the rest of his team brought in.

Still, Ziering took it upon himself to plant his feet firmly in the foundation of the exceptional leader – do your job with honor. Always.

About 7 years ago, I was faced with a situation that no leader ever wants to be in. An employee on my team had crossed a line during a phone call with a difficult customer who also happened to be a frequent buyer. She had a known reputation among the rest of the team for being particularity demanding and short-tempered, and everyone cringed whenever they knew they were about to take her call.

The conversation went horribly awry. Mark lost his composure, and in the heat of the moment said too many things he could not back-peddle on, some of which were mean-spirited. After listening to both sides of the recorded call, it was clear there was no option of coaching, changing behavior or disciplining him. He had crossed the invisible line with a customer, and the only viable option was to terminate his employment.

I can’t say it was a difficult decision, because I knew it had to be done. Not only had he violated the number one rule of the team – always treat the customer with respect – he did it in plain sight and earshot of the entire crew. Everyone knew what had happened, and an example had to be made. Mark’s future with the company was over.

To his credit, he knew it was coming. First thing the next morning, I called him into
a private room to make it official. Our conversation was brief, and he was understanding, if not somewhat relieved. As I escorted him to the door, I thanked him for everything he had done to make our team a success, and I wished him luck. It wasn’t just idle chatter to pass the time from the conference room door to the exit, either. I genuinely appreciated all of his work and efforts, and I wanted him to know that his service and the results he had produced were not in vain. We shook hands, I collected his security badge and he went on his way.

About a year later, I happened to be at a local eatery having dinner with my wife and children after finishing up some grocery shopping. We were at a local custard stand on a busy Friday night enjoying each other’s company over some burgers, fries and a few sodas. As I was finishing up, I noticed Mark standing at the service counter with his elementary-aged daughter. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see me as the place was packed with customers.

For a moment, I wanted to go talk to him, say hello and ask how he was doing. I decided otherwise, though. After all, I was the one who had thrust him into the employment unknown a year prior, and I’d no idea how life had been treating him since the moment I let him go. Having been fired once myself in a previous job, I vividly remembered the intense dislike I had for the person who showed me the door. I didn’t know deep down how he felt about me and our last interaction, and I didn’t want to put him or myself in an uncomfortable situation with his daughter in tow. I remained in my seat, finished my dinner with my family and left a short time later.

I discovered two years later that Mark had passed from an aggressive form of cancer when his obituary appeared in the local newspaper. Even those at my office that had remained in contact with him after his employment ended knew nothing and were all equally stunned to hear the news. At 46 years old, Mark – a veteran of the Marines, dedicated father of one and a guy just trying to make a living for him and his child – was gone.

I sat at my desk in stunned silence, contemplating my inaction two years prior. I didn’t and still don’t question releasing him from his employment that February morning in 2010 ….that was a business decision that had to be made. Ultimately, my job is two-fold… to protect the company I work for and to ensure that nothing threatens my own personal revenue stream.

What I did regret, though, was not listening to the voice in my head….doing the honorable thing….and just asking the question when the opportunity presented itself.

There are far reaching implications to being in any kind of leadership position. New managers and leaders in training discover quickly that their responsibilities don’t cease at the end of the workday at 5 pm nor are they restricted by the physical boundaries of the workplace. There is a manner in which you conduct yourself 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the expectations are high that you always present yourself in the best possible manner, both professionally and personally.

Be honest to those you serve – your supervisors, your subordinates and your equals.

Be caring to those you serve – your supervisors, your subordinates and your equals.

Above all else….in spite of the office politics….forget the bullsh*t, and do your job with honor – always.
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Images courtesy jokeblogger,com, nbc.com, storyfever.com, business.salary.com
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Andy Books is a proud father of 2, husband to his wife, Linda,  and leadership professional  with years of experience covering management, training and operational planning.  In addition to his current role as an Client Operations Program Manager, he also facilitates business management courses as a member of Adjunct Faculty for a Wisconsin-based private college.  When not working or teaching classes, you will find him in his natural habitat taking on unending projects at his home and being a general all-around family man.

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