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Surprise: 'Corpate Curmudgeon' really isn't

By: Doug Snover

Oct 7, 2006

For 15 years, Dale Dauten has written a syndicated column as “The Corporate Curmudgeon,” humorously poking the business world in the ribs while keeping a secret from his loyal readers who find him in 30 newspapers around the country.

Dauten, a long-time Kyrene Corridor resident, recently turned 56. And he is anything but curmudgeonly.

He is tall, lean, gracious and ever-smiling as he describes his new book, (Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success, and tries repeatedly to explain to a skeptic the fine distinction between firing an employee and “de-hiring” him.

Dauten cheerfully admits he never has seen a book title with the first word in parentheses. He likes being different, he says.

That’s about as curmudgeonly as Dauten gets, it seems.

He may be a wiseacre – there’s a trace in that smile of his – but he’s also a student of Zen who seems to call on that training before trying once again to explain why “de-hiring” is better than firing when the employee is out of a job either way.

The concept of de-hiring takes up a good chunk of (Great) Employees Only, a short book that can be read in a couple of hours if you don’t stop to argue Dauten’s theories or get sidetracked by your own memories of bosses who were decidedly not the “gifted” leaders he describes.

Dauten envisions a corporate world where these “gifted” bosses spend their time building teams of “allies” by hiring “stars” and “de-hiring” mediocre employees; where a boss doesn’t need to “manage” employees, only “inspire” them; and where the allies cooperate so well that an outside observer has trouble telling who is the boss and who are the employees.

(Great) Employees Only suggests that a gifted manager spends 90 percent of his or her time hiring and de-hiring employees, 10 percent inspiring, and no time at all “managing.”

“It’s getting the right people in the right place,” he says.

A gifted boss keeps a treasure trove of potential “stars” just waiting for an opening on the team and wastes little time on mediocre, or “second-rate,” workers.

“If you have even one mediocre employee you have announced to the world that mediocrity is okay by you,” Dauten writes.

That sounds curmudgeonly, to be sure. But he softens his stance when you’re sitting across from him in his home office, his two dachshunds curled on a nearby chair, and he’s trying one more time to explain de-hiring.

“I’m assuming this is a decent human being dealing with another decent human being,” he says.

“Firing is when the manager makes the decision,” he explains. De-hiring is the boss explaining what the employee needs to do to remain and what his or her options might be if those expectations are not met.

“You give them a choice, that’s the difference; the employee has the choice” to raise himself to the boss’s expectations or go somewhere else, whether that be a transfer to another department where the once-mediocre employee can become a “star” or out of the company altogether.

He also softens his stance on what exactly is “mediocre.”

At first he labels any average employee as “mediocre,” then softens it to “average or below average” before switching terms to “first-rate and second-rate” and spare the feeling of the merely “average.”

But he firmly urges bosses to hire only “stars” and suggests star employees search for gifted bosses rather than good jobs.

“I believe everybody can be a ‘star’ somewhere,” Dauten says.

As evidence, he tells the story of when he operated a market-research business in California. There was an employee – a woman who shall be named in a minute – who just wasn’t making the grade, according to boss Dauten.

He fired that woman four separate times, he says, even though she was, and still is, his own wife, Sandy.

“You’re talking about bosses who are warm, caring and loving,” he said, back on his theory of “de-hiring” employees so they will go somewhere else and become stars.

In Dauten’s vision, even employees who lose their jobs, if properly de-hired, remain the gifted boss’s allies forever, and good things happen to all.

“You’re always looking to get the spiral going up, not down,” he said.

“The gifted boss. You believe it because it’s true: They’re there to make you better.”

“If somebody really cares about you and is trying to make you better, they’re committed to being lifelong allies, that’s starting to look like love,” he said.

Dauten said he plans to add a feature to his website,, where web surfers can hear him explain his theory of de-hiring.

For those who want to hear it in person, he will be speaking at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11, at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe.



Photo by David Stone


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