Do You Train or Do You Fire?

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For the last year, Janet wondered if she made the right decision by promoting one of her experienced nurses, Erik, into the assistant manager role. She selected Erik because he had a good relationship with the staff, was enrolled in a master’s program, and seemed to be very organized, which were a few of the reasons she thought he would do well in a leadership role.

However, it wasn’t long before Janet started questioning her decision. Erik was spending a lot of time just hanging out with staff – well, certain staff; his buddies. Some of the other nurses complained that he showed favoritism to certain nurses and support staff he liked, and then sat back while the staff he didn’t like drowned.

Regarding his management duties, he’s average at best. He’s always late with his audits, makes excuse after excuse, and recently Janet found out the quality meetings Erik said he’s been attending, he never did! Apparently, he made up his debriefing reports!

Janet has had numerous conversations with Erik, sent him to every leadership course their organization has to offer, and even assigned him a mentor from another department. Each time Janet has an honest conversation with him, Erik promises to do better but she’s not seen any improvement.

You just heard about a leadership program sponsored by a national nursing organization that focuses on helping nurses transition from direct care to management.

Should Janet send him?

Whether to send Erik or not is the wrong question to ask.

The right question is, “Is this behavior something that training and education will fix or is this a character flaw?”

Signs that the issue is a character flaw

Falsifying records

During one of my workshops, a director shared that she found out a manager made up the numbers on one of their quality audits and then just changed the date at the top of the report – 6 months in a row! When she approached her about it, the manager just brushed it off like it was no big deal.

This isn’t something you fix. This is a character flaw. For someone to falsify data, deliberately, and then casually blow it off, isn’t someone you want working in your organization.


Do you remember the scene from Friends when Ross got upset that someone ate his sandwich, you know, the one with the “moist maker”? Click here to watch the video clip.  One of the most bizarre and more-common-than-you-think ways employees disrespect each other is by eating someone else’s food. However, there are other ways employees steal. Reams of paper, equipment, and of course, drugs.

What about stealing time? During a series of focus groups I was conducting for a consulting client, I learned that some employees would “swipe” in for their coworkers who would then show up HOURS later!

I’m not talking about taking alcohol wipes left in your pocket or an occasional Band-Aid. There’s a difference between an alcohol wipe finding its way to your home and a printer (yes. A printer).

Overt or covert cruelty

During one of my EBI coaching calls, a leader shared an experience she had as a new nurse that shook me to my core. She had challenged an experienced nurse about the cleanliness of a patient during shift report. Three days later, this new nurse found an interoffice mail folder taped to her locker. When she opened it, she found a chux pad smeared with feces on it. Of course we know who did that – the nurse she challenged.

Think about it. For someone to actually get a dirty chux pad, fold it up, put it in an envelope and tape it to someone’s locker tells me there is SOMETHING WRONG WITH THIS PERSON!!!

This is NOT something you fix with training. You fire this person!

What’s lacking in each of these situations is INTEGRITY and good CHARACTER.

Character is related to your moral and ethical code while integrity is about whether or not you live up to that code – your actions.  For example, if kindness is a part of your moral code (character) then if you witness someone being treated with cruelty, your integrity would prompt you to intervene.

While you CAN work with someone to take action, you can’t train character. At least not with most humans.

In her article, “The Importance of Integrity in the Workplace”, the author lists a few characteristics of integrity like your actions are consistent with your words, that you are trustworthy, reliable and honest; you communicate with honesty; and that you have appropriate values, and behaviors that reflect these values.

Character is inside – integrity is what we see on the outside.

Behaviors such as falsifying important documents, lying, stealing, watching coworkers drown instead of helping – KNOWING that patients ultimately suffer are actions that show character flaws. And there isn’t a class I know of that can fix this.

Any time you’re dealing with a performance or behavior issue, it’s important that you take some time to pause and think – is this something training can fix or is this a character flaw? Stop spending your time and energy on trying to fix character.

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3 thoughts on “Do You Train or Do You Fire?”

  1. Thank you! This is the first time I’ve understood character flaws to be a part of the dynamic I see. When records are falsified, I just chalked it up to dishonesty. This article, though startling in its content, has helped me understand some of the behaviors I’ve witnessed.

    1. Thanks Paula! Yes!! there are some behaviors that you can’t just fix through training. And, some behaviors that indicate a more serious character issue. I so appreciate you!

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