True or False: Doing Something Gets You Fired

April 25, 2023

by Stephen T. Messenger

In the 2000’s Sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson at one point shares his Video Resume. He opines that this method is a sure-fire way to get hired; however, during the viewing, his friends observe that Barney does a lot of talking but isn’t actually doing anything in these videos.

Barney’s response at the 1:15 mark: “Exactly, because that’s who Corporate America wants—people who seem like bold risk takers, but never actually do anything. Actually doing things gets you fired.”

This quote is incredibly humorous on the surface, but is it true?

Playing It Safe

I would argue that it’s much easier to take charge of an organization or team and play it safe. Coming in with a big vision or big risk typically makes people uncomfortable and creates hesitation in following the new person. Most people enjoy the status quo.

A mentor of mine used to reference the President’s public engagements. Secret Service would like nothing more than to take the President of the United States after inauguration, place them in the White House, cover them in protective bubble wrap, and not let them come out until the term is over.

While the danger to the President would be next to nothing, no Presidential objectives would be met. That position needs to travel to other countries, meet the public, and be out and about. Yes, it’s fraught with risk but necessary to advance an agenda.

The Staff’s Role in “Helping”

Just like the Secret Service, military and corporate leadership are surrounded by staffs who review every initiative, policy, and procedure. Their job is literally to wring out every last bit of risk to protect the person in charge and the organization; in essence, wrap them in a bubble. This is not necessarily bad.

Yet with each risk mitigated and removed, so does the chance to make great gains in the organization.

We currently have a necessary review process in our organization where desired actions are routed across the team to ensure we’re in sync. It goes to legal, public affairs, money people, operations, logistics, security, and several other entities before a final review by at least three people before the commander signs it.

This process is critical to ensuring we’re doing things legally, ethically, safely, and in line with our objectives, along with providing the necessary resources and support.  All of this is important.

But the same time, the process takes much longer, and the initial vision can sometimes be watered down. The intent can get lost. The goals and objectives change. Now, 99% of the time, it is all for the better.

But occasionally, organizations fall into a trap where we do less. Like Barney would say, “Actually doing things gets you fired,” and companies want people who say they’ll do something, but don’t.

This could not be further from the truth. Leaders need to do things!


I often talk about my five characteristics of leadership under the acronym RALE (links included to previous articles).

Reject Passivity

Accept Responsibility

Lead Boldly and Courageously

Expect the Greater Reward

All of these are intended to help a leader “do something.” I’m not discounting the staff or review process—this is critically important—but I am encouraging you to understand where the risks are, mitigate them as much as possible, and continue to take bold steps to forward your agenda.

Doing something gets the organization moving forward. Doing nothing is a problem.

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