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posted: 8/25/2013 6:42 AM

A reason to worry when your boss is on the line

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The Washington Post

Recent years have brought us leaders who think it's OK to fire people by email, by text and by phone. Former Yahoo chief Carol Bartz said she was canned over the phone by the company's board, and last month, a staff of reporters at the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland was told the news of their job status via a phone call.

Here's a new one: AOL chief Tim Armstrong ousted an employee of the company's struggling "hyperlocal" network of news sites, Patch, during a conference call.

In the first few minutes of the call, which was intended to discuss Patch's change in strategy and coming job "impacts," Armstrong reportedly stopped mid-sentence to say to an employee "Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you're fired. Out!" according to a transcript posted by media blogger Jim Romenesko. Armstrong then continued on after a momentary pause.

Last week, Armstrong, making a rare public apology, sent a memo to employees saying he was sorry for the way he handled the matter. "I am writing to acknowledge the mistake I made during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz," he said.

There's no small irony in the conference-call canning. Just before the abrupt termination, Armstrong was sounding the right notes, saying, "I will take full credit and full responsibility for anything that's not right at Patch. If the coffee machine doesn't work, or a town doesn't work -- anything that's going wrong at Patch, you can blame me for it."

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Armstrong also complained during the call that Patch had been missing "leadership, with a capital 'L,' " right before saying he would join the management team again.

A good place to start with leadership might be a little more sensitive approach to letting people go.

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