How do you know when it’s time to let someone go?12 min read

Quote by Robert Bader-Powell

When I started watching a docuseries about food, I wasn’t expecting to get a profound lesson on relationships and leadership.

However, chef Francis Mallmann (Chef’s Table season 1, episode 3) was all too right about how we are so afraid of letting go that we compulsively start hoarding relationships like treasures – to the point where they turn to dust.

Every person that works for you, you have to let go in the best moment. When he and you are at the happiest moment, when he and you think that you’re doing your best, they have to go. Because from there on, there is only one way, which is down.

– Francis Mallmann

Mallmann makes a compelling point: we should learn to let go

When someone genuinely wants to leave there is no point in trying to stop them. The best thing you can do, both for yourself, the team and for them, is to facilitate their moving on in the most successful way possible.

Too often I’ve witnessed how there is an overcorrection on the part of the employer when an employee hands in their resignation. Sadly, a resignation is also too often a rude awakening for the employer to the real state of affairs.

The act of resigning is usually the culmination of a long process, not the first opportunity to convince a person to stay. When an employee feels trapped they become unmotivated and the best thing for the employee, as well as for the employer, is to move on.

And if that person stays, he says, you know, ‘God, this is a comfortable chair, I have a nice salary, a good job,’ and from there he will get bored.

I think it’s important that he goes on and somebody else will come up. And that transfer of energy, of power, of work, makes a little difficult moment, but then it passes and new people grow up into it.

– Francis Mallmann

Too often we see that people continue working together even when they’ve clearly passed the peak and the collaboration has begun to disintegrate.

Without seeing people in a holistic way, the collaboration gets prolonged past the point where it stops being mutually beneficial and becomes destructive as the well gets slowly poisoned.

When our joint story is coming to an end, we need to let people go in order for them to find their next chapter — even if we’re not in it.

Change is the only constant

Trying to hang on to something when the light is clearly fading is futile. In the end, the flame will go out altogether as we burn the candle at both ends.

The end of a shared journey often causes a difficult moment. Endings bring us face to face with the issues we grapple with ourselves and tend to heighten the disappointment and stress they cause us.

They also bring out our own insecurities and heighten our sense of loss. Nevertheless, if we truly cherish the relationship more than the positiong being filled, we need relinquish the other person willingly.

The longer you hang on to a relationship out of sheer convenience, the bigger the disservice to yourself and to the other person. The sooner you can move on and spend your energy on working towards new things rather than prolonging old, declining ones, the better.

Hanging on to the wrong people, or to people who want to leave, is unfair to the rest of your team because they will inevitably find themselves compensating for the inadequacies or lack of motivation of those not fully committed to the work.

If you’ve spent your time wisely, you will have created something that doesn’t hinge on just one person. You will have hired the right people for the right jobs and they will carry the extra load even in the absence of those who leave.

You will have created a legacy that will be carried on even in the absence of original key members because you will have crafted the opportunity for others to rise to the challenge and become essential to your organisation.

Over the years, you create a team that works with you, who know you very well and know what the dreams are. . . . With my team, I hand them a torch and I say to them ‘It’s lit. Keep it lit. That’s the only thing I want. I won’t be there every day to see if it’s lit, but take care of it.’

– Francis Mallmann

What are transformational relationships?

There are two kinds of relationships; transactional and transformational.

Transactional relationships are based on what the other person gives you. These relationships involve the exchange of goods, services or money.

They have a clear purpose to exist and when that purpose has been fulfilled the relationships usually end.

Whenever we buy something — food, clothes, furniture — we’re engaging in transactional relationships. These relationships are necessary and make society run.

Transformational relationships can’t work with a transactional mindset — you can’t forge a deep and meaningful relationship when you’re only thinking about what’s in it for you.

To build transformational relationships you need to think instead about what you can give the other person.

Transformational relationships are about giving your all in an effort to help someone else in a way that they cannot help themselves.

You create a synergy and cooperate towards a situation where everybody wins. Your goal is to help bring in the tide that raises up everybody’s boats equally.

Transformational relationships make the world a better place because when a relationship is not simply a means to an end it has the potential to be life-changing (not just career-changing).

If you genuinely want to grow as a leader you need to cultivate transformational relationships

The challenge with this is that most people are transactional in their relationships. Transactional relationships focus on how you can get as much as possible for as little as possible.

To develop powerful relationships your focus needs to be on what you can give. Ask yourself how you can contribute to a person or a situation without thinking of what you’ll get in return.

Transformational relationships can and do start out as transactional, but develop beyond the exchange of services, money or goods. In a transformational relationship, you create a synergy that advances other people’s goals and creates a win-win situation.

Self-made is an illusion. There are many people who played divine roles in you having the life that you have today. Be sure to let them know how grateful you are. Example: the person who introduced you to the person who introduced you to your spouse or business partner or client. Go back that far.

– Michael Fishman

You don’t have to quit your job in order to attain transformationality

Of course, if you aren’t a good fit for the company, you might very well have to quit and find a better match. However, if you’re committed to your team and your company, you can begin to cultivate transformational relationships exactly where you are.

Jim Roth famously said that we are an average of the five people we spend the most time with. Even though this shouldn’t be taken literally, the principle carries through.

From infancy, we are shaped, not only by genetics, but by our environment, and this doesn’t change as we grow up. If everyone around you is bored, complacent and hates their job, hanging around that energy all day won’t light a fire in your soul.

Thanks to our mirror neurons we are extremely susceptible to contagion, both positive and negative.

Whining and complaining spreads from person to person until, if allowed to spread unchecked, becomes endemic. I should know; I’ve had these jobs and the only memory I have of them is how compelling my need to get the heck outta dodge was.

You don’t want to be the person who complains about everything. All the time. To anyone who will listen.

Sooner or later you’ll start noticing that people avoid you, because — as neuroscience tells us — listening to negativity all the time is tiring and drags down both the complainer and the listener.

The more you complain, the more energy you are spending on hating those things that you dislike. Instead, you can actively start seeing the glass as half full thus making even the difficult or distasteful tasks a little lighter to carry.

Be the one who triggers the cycle of transformation

If you really want to build a team or company that regularly outperforms the market and the competition, you need to light that torch and pass it on.

By eliminating internal competition, having passionate, motivated employees who know their job as well as earnestly do it, and creating a synergy where people protect each other, you will become an unstoppable force.

Anyone in a transformational relationship feels protected – even when faced with the brutal truth. When people feel protected they’re willing to share what’s on their mind and they’re willing to fail because they know that the other people in that relationship have their back.

When people don’t feel protected they don’t speak up, don’t share what’s on their mind and don’t take risks. Instead, they pander to relationships, act like victims and never act within their own power.

At one job, we used to routinely discuss what kind of answers our boss liked so that we could get her off our backs ASAP, rather than tell her what we really thought.

We had all found out the hard way, that honesty was met with infantilising pats on the head and never lead to any kind of real change. As you can imagine, that job was a stepping stone for all but those with no ambition left, and it was a textbook case of an autocracy run by numbers.

People are bigger than the sum of their tasks, and if you want to be a part of something truly unique, dynamic and inspiring, you need to look up from your excel sheets.

Connect with people on a human level. Look beyond what they do, see who they are and consider how you can contribute to them and their situation.

How to recognise transformational relationships

Transactional relationships destroy intimacy, a key component in transformational relationships. We cannot know another just by scratching the surface.

As the needle moves across the spectrum from transactional towards transformational, you would do well to recognise this blossoming and appreciate the gift you are receiving. 

The hallmarks of a transformational relationship:

1. Everyone feels protected. Transformational relationships are all about creating that win-win. People in transformational relationships feel safe enough to speak their minds, voice their doubts and genuinely be themselves.

There is no fear of judgement or consequences for making mistakes. Feeling protected is key to doing invaluable work; it is the love, help and support of others that allows you to do your best work.

2. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’. Because people in transformational relationships recognise that money isn’t everything (and that “self-made” is an illusion), showing appreciation for work well done is commonplace.

Monetary compensation for work, whether as salary or fee is expected, but having someone recognise your good work is transcendent. Some people give credit and others take it. The ones who always take the credit are transactional.

3. No one is keeping score. Transactional relationships are pure business: score is kept on who did what, when and how often.

Especially narcissists relish in constantly reminding you what they’ve sacrificed for the relationship, and will remember every single mistake you ever made.

Every gift they bestow on you goes into accounting, along with notes on how quick and adequate the reciprocity was.

Transformational relationships are free of tallying since investing in the relationship isn’t based on what you get out of it.

4. You feel the love. John Wooden said that you can give without loving, but not love without giving.

In transformational relationships love and compassion are evident: instead of cheap talk, there is a sincere commitment that leads to greater intimacy and connection — and eventually success.

5. You get into the cycle of giving and receiving. Since gifts are freely given, without compulsion or expectation of reciprocity, the more you give, the more you’ll get in a transformational relationship.

You’ll also notice that you’re changing, for the better, as a result of becoming a part of this give-and-receive cycle.

Charaiveti, charaiveti, said Gautama Buddha, keep on moving

To become a Zen master you don’t become a master of others, but a master of yourself. You let go of your private goals and the desire that things should be different than they are, accepting what is instead.

A master does not want to lead, but rather share, and so people will gather around a master, not to follow, but to be inspired. When people can see their own truth reflected back to them in their interactions with you, they fall more easily into the truth of their own being.

It is only together with others that you can create something that is larger than the sum of its parts. By building your company up, one transformational relationship at a time, you will build a true legacy that future generations will cherish and nurture.

The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great.

– Jim Collins

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