Dear Management Doctor:

A friend of mine gave a wonderful uplifting statement that she quoted Paul Zucker on. It was with regard to being a terminated or fired planner. Since that has recently happened to me, it would be wonderful to have the full context of that statement. Can you help me with it?

Thank you,

Dear Fired,

The good news is that you already appear to have the right attitude. I wonder what I said? Can you or your friend give me a hint and I'll see what I can recall. In the meantime:

  1. The first issue is why were you fired or terminated? It could be simply that you were working for a jerk of a boss or organization. Today, surveys show that most people that leave an organization do so because they can't stand their boss or the organization. By the way, if that is the case, leave with your head held high and try not to burn any bridges. In hiring people, I try not to look negatively at someone who has been fired. In many cases, this is a positive reason to hire them.
  2. Generally people are not fired or terminated because they are bad people or bad planners. Instead they are the wrong person, in the wrong job, in the wrong environment, and with the wrong others. In other words, we all need to find an organization that we fit in or that fits us. In my new ABZs of Planning Management, Second Edition, page 155, I talk about people who I fired who today are good friends. How can that be? Eventually, they found that I helped them find the right fit sooner, rather than later in their career.
  3. I was fired, or at least pushed out, several times in my career. Although always somewhat painful, it opened up new avenues for me and helped me grow.
  4. There is also good news for you as a planner. I have been at this business for 50 years and I have never seen the market so hot for planners as it is today. Believe me, there are many employers looking for people just like you.
If you need another person to talk to, give me a call at 800-870-6306.

Looking forward to your next challenge,

The Management Doctor 

Reader Responses

How true this message is! Very early in my career I terminated one of my first employees. I knew how he felt but it was 30 years later when, on a trip to the east coast, I called and took him and his wife to dinner. After I explained what really happened, his wife said to me, "...he has been wanting to hear that for 30 years." So it's never too late to make amends. Just leave the door open.


During my first semester at Cornell, Prof. Ken Reardon gave an inspiring lecture about the radical community organizing approach that he facilitated while establishing and directing the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's highly regarded East S. Louis Action Research Project, for which he was awarded the 2000 American Institute of Certified Planners President's Award. At the conclusion of the lecture, I commented that he had the luxury of engaging in such activities from luxury of the Ivory Tower, where his employment was never in jeopardy and that he just set up a roomful of graduate students to be fired. I told him that I knew this for sure because I had been engaged in the same type of activities until I got fired and enrolled in graduate school. Prof. Reardon responded by telling me to never trust a planner that hadn't been fired at least once!

J. Justin Woods
J. Justin Woods Consulting

It was I who told my friend in Denver, CO that Paul Zucker said, "even the best planners get fired at least once during their career." It was said during the Complete Management Course for Planning Directors in Savannah, GA on April 9 & 10, 2007, of which I was a participant. I recall it vividly because I have been a planner for 12 years and have not been fired once — ergo, I am not a good planner?? I know that is not what was meant, but that was my first thought. Anyhow, the good news is my friend in Denver is employed after being unemployed as a planner for four months.

Tricia Reynolds, AICP
Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center

I copied the quote because I found it inspiring as well:

Get off your duff and start doing some "real planning." Your job is more than processing those applications. Fight for a decent long-range planning budget. Sell your ideas. Go ahead and stick your neck out. Getting fired at least once in your career is good for you.


Jim Flesher

That was a very nice reply to the planner who'd been fired. And offering to talk with them one-on-one was a wonderful outreach!

Connie Cooper
(Been there, done that)

I would like to echo the statement that being fired or pushed out should not be viewed as being disgraceful. In my 45+ years of practicing state, local, regional and federal planning, and management, I have been given the hook several times. Looking back, I am proud of every stance I took that may have contributed to my having been "let go." The following is one of the more dramatic instances.

When I was a young fellow in the early 1960s, I was the first City Manager of a small Kentucky town. (Previously, as a consultant to the town, I had prepared its City's first Master Plan, Neighborhoods Analysis, Subdivision and Zoning Ordinances.) Once installed in office, I got them adopted and instituted the City's first budget, capital improvement program, reformed the civil service, bonding and traffic court procedures, and changed many of the City's policies, including making sure that non-white citizens and their neighborhoods received the same level and quality of services as white citizens received.

So much change caused a political reaction and the Mayor and Council that had hired me were all thrown out of office in the next election. When the Mayor elect and I met just after the election, she told me that the problem with the city was that the last Mayor had gotten the @#%$ Catholics to organize the $%@ N----s to become Communist agitators. Even if she had not told me that she was abolishing the position of City Manager, I would have left.

Charles Bien

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