By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

Ministry Formation is a two-year program in the Rockford Diocese designed to prepare people to serve in ministry, especially parish ministry. Men who wish to enter diaconate discernment and formation have to finish this program first. Our Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus training experience is an integral part of the program.

Having taught several of these classes, I never fail to be amazed at the intelligence, maturity and devotion of the students -- men and women alike. Not infrequently, they really surprise me.

One of those times was in a class where we were talking about good bosses. “Give me some examples,” I said.

A woman I’ll call Sue raised her hand and began to tell her story. She had been part of a high performing team in a major national corporation when word came down that the company was getting out of a major line of business. That meant her department, despite its record of achievement, would be closing down.

“Strategic decision,” corporate executives explained.

Shattered and helpless

The people in Sue’s department were shocked, heart-broken, really shattered. Despite their record of excellent performance, they were all going to be let go. They felt so helpless. So hurt. And angry too!

But she said, more than a little sheepishly, that the boss she had at the time – the boss who eventually laid her off – was the best boss she ever had.

The classroom was abuzz. How could that be? Surely we had heard her wrong.

But no, it turned out we had heard her exactly right. Here’s how she explained the conundrum.

When word came that her department would be closed and all the people let go, her boss stepped up and exercised new leadership. He noted that they were left with nothing much to do in the few months before the department would shut down. They could spend it hosting their own extended pity party or they could adopt a new vision.

New vision and goal

The leader urged them to embrace a new vision and goal. “If we chose we can all go to work together to find everyone here a new job – one that’s at least as good as the one they have now, hopefully better,” the boss proposed. Everyone on the team bought into the new goal.

So they went back to work like they always did – smart, with passion.

And you know what? Every one of them, every single one of them, got a job – a better job – than the one they were losing.

She and everyone else on her team were grateful beyond words for the vision and energy their boss – soon to be their former boss – brought to the dreadful predicament into which they had been dropped.

From calamity to victory

With the trust and support of his team, he was able to turn calamity into victory.

Finally, the rest of us in the class understood. Yes, it’s possible that the boss who lays you off could be the best boss you’ll ever have.

Or as we say to explain S3 Shepherd Leadership -- people are precious.

Her story reminded me of two of my own.

Sometimes when you have positional leadership, you have to fire people or lay them off. Either way it’s crisis.

No matter the reasons, always tragic

People lose the income that puts a roof over their head and food on the table. They lose the benefits that help provide for their health and eventually their retirement. How are they going to make mortgage and car payments?

Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, when people lose their jobs it’s tragic.

Over the course of the first four years of my job as publisher of a newspaper group I had to fire two people. I tried to do it respectfully, without anger or any desire to inflict pain. I tried to see past the moment to consider their circumstances and long-term well-being. I prayed for guidance and consideration.

  • The first thanked me for saving his marriage.
  • The second asked me to be in his wedding party.

Yes, people are precious.

And with God’s help, we can try to serve that principle even under the worst of circumstances.