The client who fired me

I was once in a men’s group where we were asked to list our five best experiences. I was second to last and had all five almost immediately while the others were thinking about their answers. For some reason, I was the only one who identified situations where I made really bad mistakes and got caught in terribly embarrassing situations.

Those were the best experiences ever for me because they were such powerful and valuable learning experiences. Each one of them changed me in a big way and for the better.

I tend to look at things a bit differently than most. This is one example of that off-the-beaten-track thinking I try to pursue.

Hence November’s newsletter topic, the client who fired me.

A local firm with about 180 employees and generating high nine figures in annual revenue had a major decision to make that would have a defining impact on them. Time was the driving force as their lease was expiring and getting it right was of utmost importance.

The client invested almost $250,000 in this 3-day retreat for the top 96 people. Most of the cost was for lodging, food, and alcohol. My share was a fraction of that total.

The retreat was well planned with great input from the Board and several key leaders and staff. I led a team of four highly experienced senior facilitators to ensure we were working with small groups and could get some quality work done.

Just when I think I have all the loose ends covered, something unexpected bites me. This time it was the alcohol, and my mistake was not pushing to hold the party incentives until we were done. Every night became a stag party without bride or groom. Yes, there were men and women. And they all liked to have their fun.

The work of the retreat became an unwelcome distraction. The quality of planning we were able to do impacted the firm’s ability to make a well-informed decision. At the closing general session, I chastised every one of them for their behavior and treating the event like a party.

The client was NOT happy with me. 😡

When I finished, I was escorted out of the room, fired, and told not to come back into their offices. When I asked about presenting my findings, they told me to mail them along with the bill and they would mail me my check. The message, stay away, was clear.

I stayed away, submitted my report, and got my check.

Three years later, the client was out of business.

The decision about the office lease became so contentious, everyone was angry over the decisions they’d made, the ones they were supposed to make three years prior at the retreat. That simple failure to prioritize planning over partying cost many people a lot of money and many others their jobs. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

Most of the time I tell stories with happy endings to make a point. This month I decided it was time to start talking about some of my failures and how those lessons served me well. This one gave me concrete evidence I could use to convince others to avoid the alcohol before working.

It doesn’t hurt the planning message too much either.

Do you want the successful organization you’ve built to survive? If so, you must plan. Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. Don’t let your bad decisions cost you your business.

My role as an executive leadership business consultant and owner of more than a dozen businesses is to share my experience with you to help you make the best decisions possible.

If you want to talk about some of the issues your company is having, let’s talk. Email me at or call 916-798-0600.


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