This is a weird thing to admit, but I think I'm pretty good at firing people. I've written in the past about how I think firing should be done, but I'm not here to brag about this (if indeed it's socially acceptable to brag about such a thing, which I'm pretty sure it's not) ... I'm here to confess my secret shame, which is that the first time I had to do it, I was a disaster and totally oblivious to the advice that I now chant like some sort of weird mantra to other managers.
At the time, I was a relatively new manager, and when I took the position, I inherited a problem employee: painfully slow, constantly made mistakes that were seeding the database he worked on with tons of land mines, impervious to help, a general mess. Rather than addressing it straightforwardly with him like one obviously should do, I did what lots of inexperienced managers do: I handled him way too gingerly. I made "suggestions" and expressed concerns, but never did I tell him directly that the problems were so serious that he would be fired if his work didn't improve. I was vague. I thought I was choosing the kinder option, protecting his feelings, which of course was ridiculous -- there's nothing kind about denying someone the opportunity to know they're on the path to job loss.
Inevitably, I ended up having to fire him -- and because of my vagueness leading up to it, he was genuinely shocked, said he hadn't seen it coming, even cried. I hadn't been so kind, it turned out.
And that's not all. A couple of months later he sued, claiming I had fired him because he had Crohn's Disease, which would have been a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act if it were true. I was baffled -- I knew he'd been fired for poor performance and that the fact that he had a disability was irrelevant (and indeed, we ultimately won the suit). But by not being direct enough about how bad his performance was, I had opened the door to him speculating on what the cause might have been. I could have avoided a months-long legal mess (as well as his legitimate bewilderment) by just getting over my own discomfort and telling him forthrightly the ways in which his performance was unsatisfactory. I put my own comfort ahead of managing well, and as a result, I exposed my company to legal jeopardy and left an employee completely dumbfounded about why he was let go.
Years later, I'm still cringing when I think about how my inexperience and misplaced desire to be nice made me a nightmare manager for that guy. These days, my employees who struggle hear about it -- and some of them take the warnings and improve and some of them don't, but none of them have been surprised by bad news since.