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What if Your Leaders Are ‘Quiet Firing’ Your Star Talents? 

By: SparkUs Team

Imagine you have a talent like Ronaldo on your team. But suddenly, he quits because of ‘disagreements’ with his manager.  

Yes, we are talking about the infamous feud between Cristiano Ronaldo and Erik ten Hag, eventually leading to Ronaldo leaving Manchester United. To sum up, Erik ten Hag had reportedly told Manchester United bosses that Cristiano Ronaldo ‘should not play for the club again’ after finding out about an interview where he ‘went too far in his criticism of the club and the revelation that he “doesn’t respect” the United boss,’ says an ESPN article

This news made us think of a similar scenario we’ve seen in companies of all sizes: Quiet Firing. Although we’re not saying that the Ronaldo vs Erik is a case of Quiet Firing per se, it is a prime example of what happens when there is a disconnect in a professional relationship: Loss of potential success. 

What is quiet firing? 

Although this concept is far from being new, it was recently coined as a phrase following the popularity of quiet quitting. Quiet firing involves organizations, managers, or leaders failing to reward employees for their contributions or neglecting them until they eventually resign, regardless of having a specific reason or not. 

When this is done at an organizational level, it means it’s probably embedded in your company culture, and you have bigger fish to fry (like cultural transformation). But more often than not, it’s a leadership issue. And creating coach-like leaders help organizations proactively manage any iffy behavior that might have larger consequences down the road, like losing your Ronaldo-level employee. 

Forces behind quiet firing 

The silent treatment, or similar kinds of passive-aggressive behavior, aiming to “quietly fire” an individual is a symptom of serious leadership issues. Not all leaders are equipped to have tough conversations on performance, feedback, and expectations and are often reluctant to talk about the problem because it feels too personal or uncomfortable. Or worse, they might feel like there is no hope and don’t even bother to put in an effort (which is rarely the case because we now know that an individual’s coachability can be developed.) 

Instead of taking an empathic approach, setting aside time for candid conversations, giving them feedback, and guiding them to overcome any issues, managers ice them out. A recent HBR article on Quiet Firing lists changes related to supervisor communication, which include; 

  • Being unfair in evaluations, giving brutal feedback, or constantly criticizing work done 
  • Not providing essential information related to a certain task or basic duties 
  • Not giving credit for their work or giving credit to someone else 

Why companies need to equip leaders with the coaching skillset 

Equipping your leaders with the coaching mindset and skillset (also known as creating coach-like leaders) is the antidote for quiet firing. Coach-like leaders build a psychologically safe work environment and trust-based relations. They engage with their people in a manner that is thought-provoking and inspire them to maximize their professional potential. They do not act in a hierarchy; they do not provide the solution; they empower and inspire your workforce. 

When a person is not performing well enough or has an issue that is affecting their ability to do their job properly, the coach-like leader’s job is to coach them through it. This means having difficult conversations with employees about their shortcomings, but it also means being honest about what they need to do to get things back on track without making it feel like an interrogation session. 

What a coach-like leader looks like 

  • Acts like a coach, not a savior that swoops in every time things go wrong or micromanages 
  • Makes time for employees and listens to them 
  • Asks the right questions to understand them and brings fresh points of view to the conversations 
  • Is aware of the individual’s unique strengths and development points 
  • Put previous judgments aside to eliminate bias 
  • Empowers employees to take initiative 
  • Understands the best way to motivate employees 
  • Follows up on progress and performance with employees 
  • Provides constructive feedback that is actionable and specific 
  • Builds relationships based on mutual respect and trust 
  • Creates a psychologically safe environment where it’s ok to raise concerns, make mistakes and learn from them 

If you need effective leadership in your company, and of course you do, you need to support leaders with the coaching skillset so that they can spark change in their team’s performance. This will help boost communication among team members and support engagement. It will also encourage leaders to invest their energy into developing each team member individually. And this is the very recipe that will eliminate the risk of quiet firing so that you can keep your Ronaldo-level star talents in the game! 

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