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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Grow, Demote, or Go

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #142

When someone doesn't meet expectations, what should you do? Sometimes, people in your organization fail to meet your expectations as a leader. Your responsibility as a leader is to determine if you can help the person grow into the position and your expectations or if they must be demoted or go. A different mindset and an emotional switch are required for each alternative, whether it is assisting the individual to develop, a demotion, or terminating them.

The decision to support an employee who is not meeting minimal expectations, demoting or dismissing them, can be assisted by having a foundation in the three principles of leadership defined by the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching: value people, value learning, and think systemically. Each of these principles requires utmost consideration when determining an individual's future with the organization.

Value People

Every individual in the organization deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

An organization's success depends on its people and their contributions. Each employee brings unique skills, expertise, and perspectives that can drive innovation, productivity, and growth.

By valuing and investing in employees, organizations create a positive work environment, boost morale and motivation, and foster loyalty. When each member is recognized for their inherent worth and encouraged to collaborate, it leads to greater creativity, problem-solving, and overall efficiency. Investing in employees' well-being, professional development, and satisfaction improves individual performance and the organization's long-term success and sustainability. Ultimately, valuing the people within an organization creates a more resilient, adaptable, and successful organization.

Value Learning

Investing in the professional growth and improvement of individuals within the organization significantly contributes to demonstrating the value of learning.

Promoting a culture of ongoing learning empowers employees to refine their skills and expand their knowledge and nurtures adaptability and innovation within an organization. By investing in individual development, organizations promote personal growth and enrich the collective expertise of their entire team. Embracing a learning-focused environment encourages creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking abilities, enabling teams to approach challenges with agility and confidence. Additionally, prioritizing individual learning showcases a dedication to employee well-being and professional fulfillment, resulting in higher job satisfaction, improved retention rates, and a more resilient and competitive company.

Think Systemically

When faced with the decision to support an employee's growth or demote or terminate their employment, it is crucial to approach it from a systemic perspective. This means looking beyond the individual's performance issues and considering the bigger picture.

It involves examining their role within the organization, connection to other departments or teams, and how their development or departure could affect workflows and team dynamics. It also entails identifying systemic factors contributing to their underperformance, such as the culture, unclear expectations, or lack of resources. By adopting a systemic viewpoint, the leader will gain a more comprehensive understanding of the situation and develop solutions that address immediate concerns and underlying systemic issues that may impact the entire organization.


To help an individual achieve proficiency in job responsibilities, a leader must take on a multifaceted approach emphasizing mentorship, clear communication, and personalized support. The first step is understanding the employee's strengths, weaknesses, and preferred learning styles to develop a customized development plan. Next, it is vital to effectively communicate expectations and objectives while also providing regular feedback for constructive guidance and improvement. Encouraging a growth mindset and offering opportunities for skill-building through training, coaching, and mentorship can facilitate continuous advancement. Additionally, creating a supportive environment where achievements are recognized, and constructive criticism is given empowers individuals to take ownership of their learning journey. A leader can effectively foster proficiency and promote employee professional growth by aligning support with the individual's aspirations and the organization's goals.


Demoting an employee is a delicate decision that requires careful consideration, respect, and a focus on preserving the individual's dignity. Sometimes, demotion may be necessary if an employee struggles with their current role due to performance issues or a lack of suitable skills. However, before a demotion, it's crucial to provide clear feedback, coaching, and support to help the employee improve in their current position. If demotion does become unavoidable, it should be handled sensitively by having private discussions with the employee that convey empathy and understanding. It's also important to emphasize the organization's commitment to the employee's professional growth and value to the team. Communicating openly about the reasons for the demotion and highlighting how the new role aligns with their strengths and skills can help ease the transition. Providing resources or training to aid in this change can also show support and encourage future growth opportunities. Ultimately, treating employees with empathy, respect, and transparency throughout the demotion process is crucial in helping them maintain their dignity during this difficult time.

Go (Out-Counseling)

The leader is responsible for terminating an employee with dignity and respect, as it is crucial for upholding their integrity and maintaining a professional, empathetic approach. When faced with the difficult decision to let go of an employee, leaders must conduct the process with empathy, sensitivity, and transparency. This includes informing the employee privately and allowing them to understand the reasons behind the decision without confusion. The communication should be clear, honest, and respectful of their feelings, focusing on performance or behavioral issues rather than personal attacks. Offering support resources such as job assistance or access to counseling can also show care during this challenging time. By treating the departing employee with dignity, acknowledging their contributions, and keeping the termination confidential, their self-worth can be preserved, and the transition can be smoother. This helps build a culture of fairness and respect within the organization.

When faced with an employee who fails to meet expectations, leaders must weigh their options: help the individual improve in their current role, demote them, or terminate their employment. The three fundamental leadership principles can guide this decision-making process. Valuing people means showing respect and appreciation for each employee's contributions, creating a positive work environment. Prioritizing continuous learning involves investing in employee development for individual growth and organizational adaptability. And thinking systemically means considering the broader impacts of decisions within the organization. Ultimately, the leader is responsible for coaching employees toward improvement, handling demotions sensitively while maintaining dignity, and executing terminations with empathy and integrity.


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