Coach Brendan Suhr is joined by Scott Howard, longtime coach and one of the best NBA scouts in the game, currently for the Denver Nuggets, to discuss a very timely topic at this time of the year, getting fired. Scott shares lessons he’s learned first hand and through others over the years that will help you rebound and make your next chapter the best ever!
Enjoy the podcast, and as an added bonus, Scott has updated his popular blog below!
Lessons I’ve Learned From Being Fired
By Scott Howard
I am writing about something I wish NO ONE ever needed!
During my 34 years in basketball, I have been out of a job on several occasions. Unfortunately, in today’s world of collegiate and professional athletics, it happens to coaches, administrators and executives more than it should. It has become part of the business. The money is so big in athletics that it is easy to buy someone out. It has become increasingly easy to blame someone else. Many times a change in leadership leads to new bosses wanting to bring in their own people, and fire people he or she does not know. Lastly, there are times when someone has not lived up to the expectations set for them, or lapses in judgment have made it necessary to be let go.
I have learned a lot during these trying times. Following are some of the lessons I have learned and would like to share with you.
- WELCOME TO THE CLUB
It is a large fraternity of coaches, administrators and executives who were let go during their careers. Some of the greatest coaches in history have been fired. Don’t be embarrassed by it – you need to believe that what you lost simply made room for the new things in your life.
- IT HURTS
When you get told you are out, it hurts. If you have passion and care about your job, it should hurt. It is okay to be wounded. Just don’t let it be a mortal wound. Don’t wish to change the situation, make the situation change you for the better!
- IT’S LONELY
There are going be times you feel on an island by yourself as you attempt to make your next move. Surround yourself with as many positive people as you can to help you feel like you have allies.
- IT WILL SHAKE YOUR SELF-CONFIDENCE
Getting fired can rock the confidence you have in yourself. You will have feelings of “If I am as good as I think I am, how could they fire me?” It is hard to have belief in yourself when your boss just let you go. However, you have to be careful, because a lack of self-confidence can hurt you from getting your next job. You are still really good at what you do – believe it!
- YOU WILL QUESTION HOW LOYALTY REALLY WORKS
Many times after being fired I struggled with the “loyalty” issue. I felt betrayed because I had been loyal to my boss, and to the organization/school. If there was one reason I could be sure I was not fired for, it was from a lack of loyalty. In fact, twice I was fiercely loyal to my boss and organization, only to be fired.
Loyalty can often be a one-way street. If you get fired, and it is not for lack of loyalty, don’t lose that trait. Don’t decide that loyalty doesn’t matter – it truly does. In fact, in every single instance that I have ever been fired, my next job came from a former boss or colleague. I truly think that I got those jobs because of my loyalty to them in past situations.
- DON’T BE SHOCKED
For the most part, you should probably not be shocked. Many times you probably saw it coming, and just did not figure your boss would do it to you when he, or she, did.
If it was not an egregious error on your part, there was likely tension with or decreased communication from, your boss before you got let go.
What can overwhelm you is how much it hurts; how your pride and ego are bruised; and how much you wish had left of your own accord before you got fired.
- BE GRACIOUS AND TAKE IT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL – BUT DON’T LET THEM BEAT YOU UP!
Be classy, and don’t say something you are going to regret. Get out of the meeting as soon as you can so you don’t lash out. However, you also don’t need to have the session or phone conversation make you hurt more than you already will be.
I have learned that you will get let go in one of two ways. The first way can get personal, and you will be verbally attacked in ways that can cause you to lash out. Be careful, as it will be easy to respond with words you may regret.
The other way you will get released is “because we are going in a different direction.” In that case, you will possibly hear, “You did a great job here”; or “You worked hard”; or “You were very professional.”
And then the inevitable, “But….”
In that case, I would advise you just to stop the conversation in a polite manner and get out of the meeting and ask to speak to HR. If you were so good, worked so hard, were so professional, etc. you would not be getting let go. Those reasons won’t make you feel better about how this is going down.
You can come out of most any situation bitter, or you can come out better. Even when being let go; grow from it and come out better!
- OWN UP TO YOUR MISTAKES
Even though you may not feel your firing was justified, own up to the things that you may have done wrong; would have handled differently or that put you in this position.
Fortunately, I never had any indiscretions that got me fired. I have never fired been for cheating on expense accounts; breaking NCAA rules; legal issues, etc. But, even then there are things I look back on and wish I would have handled differently.
It is important to own up to your mistakes because you can learn from it in your next job and, hopefully, avoid having it happen again. Or, like in my case, know how to handle it better the next time it happens. Self-awareness is difficult, but it’s truly the only way to grow, and improve your image and reputation.
- TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF PHYSICALLY
Getting let go from your job can wear you out. You will lose sleep. Your mind will race at night trying to figure out why this happened; what you are going to do next, etc. You have to get rest and stay focused.
Being relieved of your job can cause weight loss or gain. However, it can also prove to be an excellent time to get into shape physically, or if you are already in great shape, to take it to another level.
Eating right and taking good care of your body is of vital importance. It can help you avoid the sad, down times. Drinking alcohol in excess won’t help, either – in fact, it will make things worse.
- DON’T WASTE TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT HAPPENED
It will be a waste of your time and energy once you have been fired seeking to figure out what happened; who got you fired; who lied; who turned on you, etc. Even if you know, it won’t get your job back. It becomes a negative drain on your energy level and will cause you to get angry. It is hard, but you have to move on.
The first time I got fired, it was a very personal firing. I was hurt beyond belief. I spent an incredible amount of time reading the internet about what was going on in that program. The following year I listened to their games late at night hoping they would lose. I wanted so bad for the guy who fired me to get fired himself. As if that was somehow going to help me get my job back! As I look back on it, it was not smart on my part. It was a total waste of time, and most likely prevented me from doing a better job at the new job I had.
Everyone has a story, but few people want to hear it. Look forward, not back!
Take your time – if you can – before you rush into your next job. You can’t afford to get into two dangerous situations in a row. That can be professional suicide.
For some, it is hard because there are families to raise and support, and you will feel you have to get right back to work. However, there is something to be said for taking a step back, evaluating the direction you want to go and finding out what else may be out there that will excite you.
It can be an excellent time to explore what you may want to do outside of the endeavor you were doing when you get fired. For me, I discovered things I could do out of basketball – and it helped me find that I was capable of something so much more than I had ever thought.
By the way, it is not a bad idea for people to do even if you have not been fired! As a good friend of mine says, “Always prepare for war in times of peace.”
- YOU DON’T HAVE AS MANY FRIENDS AS YOU THINK YOU DO
You will be disappointed in some people because they did not reach out to you after it got out that you were fired. There will be people who you consider close friends and allies that you will not hear from. Don’t be surprised by this.
Sometimes people simply don’t know what to say, so they just avoid it. Others don’t like you as much as you had thought. And many of them have never been fired before, so they don’t know how much it hurts and don’t know how to support people.
I had a great friend once tell me that “you will be lucky if you can find six good friends in life because you need six to be pallbearers at your funeral. If you have more than six, the bad friends will drop your casket.”
You will find out even more when you get fired how true that statement is. What you will find is that in life you have a lot of acquaintances, but few real friends.
- YOU CAN’T EXPECT YOUR FRIENDS TO HIRE YOU FOR YOUR NEXT JOB
Be careful about the expectations you may have when you have a friend that you “know will give me a job.” Sometimes those friends would like to hire you, but don’t have an opening in their organization, or on their staff. Other times the person is not as good of a friend as you had thought. Be careful of losing a friendship because of your expectation that a friend will always take care of you.
- JUST BECAUSE YOU HELPED SOMEONE GET A JOB DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE GOING TO HELP YO
Many of us have helped friends or colleagues get jobs. Sometimes they were out of jobs themselves at the time you helped them. Don’t expect them to do the same for you. I have had multiple times in my life where I could not believe that someone “forgot” that I helped them get a job at a critical juncture in their life. Just because you did that for them does not mean they will remember it – in fact, most of the time they won’t!
- YOU DO HAVE FRIENDS AT THE PLACE YOU JUST GOT FIRED FROM
There are people at the place you got fired from who are your friends, who liked you, thought you did a great job, etc. Don’t forget them. Many times it came down to one person who fired you – don’t let the good relationships you have with the rest of the people go by the wayside just because you have bitter feelings toward the person that let you go.
I have been guilty of this in the past – and regret it. I let my pride get in the way and lumped the whole school or franchise into one bucket. It’s not healthy because the vast majority of people had nothing to do with it!
- THE PEOPLE WHO REPLACED YOU HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!
The person who now sits at your old desk, or the staff that comes in after you, most likely had nothing to do with you getting let go. Don’t hold it against them. They are only trying to do their job.
It will be human nature to hope they don’t succeed. But don’t let that get in the way of being a good person. Those people will think you deserved to be fired if you treat them poorly.
- YOU MAY HAVE TO TAKE A STEP BACKWARDS
When looking at the future, you may have to take a step backward to go two steps forward. When you are out of a job, you have lost your bargaining power and leverage. It is hard when facing the realization you are not going to make the money you were making, or that you are not going to have the title or position you had at your old job. However, it does not mean you can never have that again.
Every time I was fired, my next job was a step back – but in subsequent years I was able to get back to where I wanted to be, both financially and position-wise. But, it takes time!
- IT’S A DEMEANING EXPERIENCE
Be careful about putting yourself into situations that will disparage or depress you even more than getting fired already has. It will be a roller coaster of emotions. You will be angry or depressed at times. You can get excited about a new opportunity that may arise, only to get let down even further when that opportunity does not come through for you.
I remember one year going to the Final Four after I had been fired. It was incredibly hard walking through that lobby. Seeing people who I thought were my friends avoiding me. Seeing others get jobs I could not get involved in. It is depressing. In fact, I would caution against going to the Final Four (or other events like it in sports) after getting fired, because it may help you avoid getting hurt even more than you already are.
- DON’T SIT AND WAIT FOR THE PHONE TO RING – IT WON’T RING AS MUCH AS YOU HOPE
You won’t hear from people as much as you would hope. You may hear from some people once, but many of those will figure they called you once and moved on. Rarely will you have a second, third or fourth call to check on you.
Additionally, when you have left messages for people, you are going to be shocked by the number of individuals who won’t call you back.
Don’t sit by your phone and wait for it to ring! You have to be the aggressor. But, go slowly and take your time doing so. For the most part, you are going to get hired by someone who pursues you – not because you wore them out on the phone. It can get depressing making tons of calls and come up with nothing.
It’s wise to cast a wide net, even outside of your current industry.
- YOU WILL HEAR A LOT OF “NO’S”
When searching for a new opportunity, you are going to hear “no” so many times that you can nearly give up. Don’t! It is part of the deal. Don’t take it personally. Emotional durability is the key to a job search.
I learned a long time ago that the easiest time to get a job is when you have a job. When you don’t have a job, it becomes infinitely harder, because the people on the other side feel there must be something wrong with you if you got fired. It is good to keep that in mind as you try to figure out your next move.
- GET A STORY
If you have been fired and are looking for a job, it is going to come up when you are interviewing for your next opportunity. It is only human nature to wonder why, if you are so good, why did you get fired? “What happened that caused you to get let go?” is a typical question. Be prepared for it.
Be positive, own your mistakes and tell the truth. Don’t sugar coat what happened. Most of the time the person who interviewed you knows what happened anyway.
- IT ALWAYS WORKS OUT FOR THE BEST
It is hard to see at the time, but getting nearly always works out for the best – if you let it. If you look forward, and not back, you will find new relationships and better opportunities. You will be amazed years down the road that you were so worried after being fired, and now the quality of your life is improved because of what you went through.
Note: For those who have never been fired, have empathy for those who have been. Be the one to call a colleague who has been fired. Not once, but multiple times. Be the one to be a friend. Be the one to return calls. And, prepare to handle being fired, because odds are you are going to make it into “The Club” at some point in your life.
When you have that tension / poor communication with your boss, maybe it’s time to move on. When you have a new A.D. or boss; a new president or head coach, it may be a chance to explore your next move. Hopefully, you can get out “ahead of the posse” and avoid the hard experiences of being out of a job.