I returned to the office after being on vacation, and I noticed that my manager was acting really strange toward me. I’d been reporting to him for about six of the ten years I’d worked for the company, and we’d actually had a really good working relationship. But this week after vacation, he never once said hello, he wasn’t acknowledging anything I was doing, and then he openly ignored me as I stood inside of his office for about 15 minutes while he spoke to one of my direct reports.
This form of behavior continued on between he and I for about eight months, but it also was uncovered that this behavior of his had happened for 15 years among over a dozen other employees. This behavior is a form of bullying, but what’s come to my attention is it is also a way of quiet firing. This particular manager was using bullying-type tactics in order to quietly fire employees that he was not aligned with.
But there are two buckets that I want to bring to your attention about how managers who care deeply are potentially quiet firing – because I know that you showing up here right now are the type of leader, the type of manager who cares about your employees. But you may actually be engaging in quiet firing without knowing it. So let’s talk about the two biggest danger zones, if you will, of where you might be quiet firing your employees.
Number one is by avoiding crucial conversations. You might have an employee, or multiple employees, who aren’t meeting their performance standards. Maybe there’s been a conflict in the workplace, there’s been a major error, and you as a leader are really uncomfortable and don’t know how to have a crucial conversation, so you avoid it. You avoid it, hoping they’re going to course correct, or if they don’t, they’ll eventually get pushed out of the organization.
That type of behavior is really close to the same bullying type of behavior. Avoidng crucial conversations is one way that you might be at risk of quiet firing. The second area is through withholding coaching. Again, I don’t think that you’re necessarily intentionally withholding coaching. You yourself might be so busy that you can’t even think about how to go and coach your employees.
But look, as a formal people leader, formal people manager, you’re responsible for the development of your employees. So by not actively coaching them, by not finding out what their needs are for development, you are quiet firing; you’re engaging in that behavior. So today, even if you haven’t been intentionally quiet firing, you do need to be intentionally learning – going through training on how to have crucial conversations and how to be a better coach as a leader.
You’ve got to meet your employees where they’re at. You need to develop your skills in order to develop theirs, whether that’s through getting them above and beyond the performance standards, or just developing them in general. Don’t be that manager who is engaged with quiet firing – even if it’s unintentional. I know you care about your employees, let’s be aware and be intentional to not engage in this behavior. Go out and learn the skillset that you need to be the most successful leader that I know you can be!
It seems that no matter where I’ve worked, what company, division, team, there is always a team meeting. And my experience has been that it happens weekly, whether it’s on a Monday, Friday, or any day in between, these weekly team meetings. I know in some instances, I was really excited for our team meetings – and in others, I absolutely dreaded them.
Now for leaders, what’s the reason for these team meetings?
Part of it is efficiency; to communicate some information that everyone is going to need to know, and you’re getting it done all at one time. I love efficiency, fantastic! But there should absolutely be other reasons for bringing a team together. And I hope you as a leader are also bringing the team together for things such as collaboration, idea sharing, and bringing the culture and the group together. But in order for those things to happen, the team needs to be able to speak up.
They have to be able to voice, to share, to say something in these team meetings. So as a leader, I really want to challenge you. First of all, are you allowing that space for that to happen? Just purely in terms of time. Are you allowing for that? And then, are there particular individuals that are not speaking up? And what can you as a leader do to increase the likelihood for everyone to speak up – and possibly speak more than you do?
I know there were circumstances, leaders that I had, where it felt very safe for everyone to speak up. And if somebody wasn’t speaking up, the leader was asking really solid questions to get other people to participate. Unfortunately, I had the opposite experience as well. Where, as soon as that leader entered the meeting room or boardroom, everybody shut down and was absolutely frightened to speak their mind, felt like they were there just to be receivers of information, or just didn’t feel empowered.
Imagine if that’s the space that you are creating as a leader, you are missing so many amazing ideas, so many amazing opportunities to bring something creative and innovative back to your organization.
So leaders today, evaluate your team meetings. Are you giving the space for others to communicate versus you standing on your soapbox to deliver information? And if there are individuals who are not speaking up, think about those ways that you could create opportunity for everyone, in addition to creating more space for that. New ideas, greater innovation, greater results for the team, for you as a leader, and the organization!
My husband, Matt, commutes nearly 60 miles – one way. He’s driving nearly 120 miles round trip just to be in the office, so you better believe he is doing everything possible to really maximize his time while he is there. So for you returning to the office, you may not have to commute 120 miles, but there is time, money, and energy that has to go into going back to the office. Now, these things may not be any different than they were before, but you’ve spent the past few years getting a taste of what it’s like to not have to do those things, right?
You might have to get up earlier, actually take a shower, do your hair, pick out real clothes to wear, pack a lunch, spend money for fuel or public transportation, then actually spend time on the commute, maybe even time to make other childcare arrangements. I mean, the list can go on and on. So if you’re going to be doing these things, if you’re going to be expending these resources, you better take advantage and maximize your time in the office.
Today I’m addressing you as a leader, the four things that you should be doing, the specific actions you should be taking to really maximize your time in the office. Number one is schedule your weekly, or whatever cadence you have, one-on-one meetings for when both you and your direct report are in the office together, assuming that your direct report isn’t a permanent remote worker. The one-on-one meetings, they really are meant to be intimate. And while there’s certainly a level of intimacy over a virtual call when it’s just the two of you, there is absolutely more intimacy by being physically energized in the same room together.
That conversation can be about engagement, about development, progress, even just projects. So use the time, and schedule the one-on-one’s when you know both you and your direct report will be in the office. The second thing I want you to schedule are your team meetings. So if it’s required, certainly this is easier, but if not, I would be making a request that your team is all in the office on the same day, every week, or at the very least once per month, and schedule the team meeting during the time when everybody is there in person.
This really provides the energy that’s needed for creativity, collaboration, and culture – the three C’s of what makes the office life easier. By physically bringing everyone together in one space, you’re going to create that environment. In addition, now you’ve created the opportunity for impromptu conversations to happen while they’re going to and from the meetings; or just the fact that everyone’s in the office, they have more of a chance to run into each other versus needing to schedule the virtual meetings.
So schedule team meetings, try to get everyone in on the same day so you can do so. The third thing that I want you to do is to schedule coffee chats and lunch meetings. Here’s why – you need to continue your career trajectory. And in order to do that, you’ve got to either expand or strengthen your network. And this is the best way to do it, in person. So schedule coffee and lunch meetings with either your peers across departments, across teams, your manager, even potentially your manager’s peers, depending on the relationship. But this is the perfect time when you are in person, to really strengthen and expand your network in order to support your career growth.
Finally, number four: I highly, highly encourage you to leave personal matters out of the office. Especially if you are hybrid; if you are hybrid, leave the personal stuff for the days where you are working from home and you get some time back, where you don’t have to commute, you don’t have to do all the prep that we talked about. But when you’re in the office, it is such a great way for you to stay focused.
Look, work from home and the situation we’ve been in in the past few years has created these situations sometimes with no boundaries, right? Everything seems so blended, work and life. Use the time in the office so that you can actually create those boundaries physically, so leave the personal stuff outside as much as possible. All right, leaders, you have your four action items of what to do to really maximize your time for yourself and your team when you’re in the office!
About 10 years into my career as a leader, I acknowledged that just as easily as I could identify my strengths as a leader, where I felt passionate, where I saw people coming to me, I could just as easily say, “Hey, I’ve got gaps.” But it was harder for me to identify exactly what those gaps were.
There were other leaders that I was just mesmerized by, I just thought they were unbelievable. And then I would hear from my peers about their leaders as they would tell me how amazing they were, and I’m thinking, “Okay, I want more of that, but what IS that?!” I wasn’t sure what it was. So I reached out to some of those leaders, the ones that I observed being amazing or that I heard from other people that were amazing, and I set up time with them to ask, what is it that you believe makes you a good leader?
I had a call with a particular VP who had a very opposite personality to me; I tend to be very extroverted, and I use big facial expressions and hand gestures all the time. This leader appeared, from the outside at least, to be a little bit more introverted, a little more serious. So I was extremely intrigued to know what his secret was, what really kept him going and made his team see him as an extraordinary leader.
He shared with me that he went into every single conversation, situation, and experience, always with curiosity. That was it; it was all about asking questions and staying curious, but I knew that wasn’t a strength of mine. I didn’t know how to do it. So I asked him, how do I learn how to do that? And he gave me a recommendation that I followed through on.
If you have an area, something that you are trying to become better at, but you’re not sure either exactly how to pinpoint what it is, or you know what it is but you’re not sure how to do it, I invite you today to take a step back and think about your network, people that you interact with either professionally or personally, and say, “Okay, who do I know that possesses these qualities? Who has achieved this? Who do I see that I would love to emulate?”
And just pick up the phone, text, email, call, reach out and ask for a bit of their time. Have some questions, find out what it is they’re doing, and then ask how they learned to do it. It’s a bit of a shortcut for you, but it also helps you learn from the best, versus just going out there and trying to find where the answers lie. Go to the source, go to those people that you are just taken by that you know they’ve got what you want, and go ask them how you can get it!
Look, as a leader, you already know you have to continue to grow; you’ve got to expand your knowledge. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know that, and you certainly wouldn’t be wasting your time listening to me. But I bet you’re going about it the wrong way. And don’t be concerned, we see this all the time. The most well-intentioned leaders say, “I know I have to continue to grow, so I’m going to implement the proven strategies to do so.”
That’s a great first step. But what often happens is that the strategy is right, but the implementation, the execution is so off the mark that it sometimes has a negative impact on the leader. At the very least, it becomes ineffective. So my hope today is I just want to talk through one of the most common examples, and actually one of the most effective strategies that you can do as a leader to continue to grow and expand, but how you may already be approaching it in the wrong way, and how we can make it actually work for you – so that you can continue on your upward trajectory, and take your team and your organization with you.
The most common recommendation, the best-proven strategy is to continue to read, research, to consume content. Basically intake information to increase your skills. That strategy is on point. I read every day. I’m reading articles and books, I’m listening to podcasts, I’m going to trainings, attending conferences, I am intaking information. You may be doing the same as well, but what we often see is that we’re intaking the wrong information. I have a feeling that if I were to take a look at your collection of books, articles, and videos for professional growth, they would be all things that you really enjoy. And when we enjoy it, it often means we’re already good at it, or potentially great at it.
So should you be spending your time taking in information, researching things that you’re already highly skilled at?
Sure, a small portion of your time and investment energy could be put into that, because we know that when we turn the dial, it can have an exponential impact. But what about the skills that you actually really need for your next step? What is it that you are missing? What is the feedback you’ve received? What do you know you need to work on to get to the next level, or get your team to the next level? Are you reading and researching and working on that?
You may not even know what it is. So we’ve got to take a look and say, truly, what skills do you as a leader need to work on? And then find the right information that is going to support those specific needs. It’s not enough just to say, oh, the strategy is to read and research and uplevel my skills. If it’s the wrong skills, the ones that are not going to help you or your team, then that strategy is completely ineffective, and it’s what we see happening so often. So today, if you truly want to grow and expand as a leader, take a look at your strategies and think, is it truly meeting where I am at as an individual leader and where I want to go?
I was only 25 years old. That seemed so young, but that’s how old I was when I was first promoted into a formal leadership role. Now, that was over two decades ago, so I definitely don’t remember, but I absolutely wouldn’t claim to know everything that was going on in the mind of my manager, my senior leader, when she promoted me. I’m not talking about why did she promote me. I’m talking about, what was she thinking as she worked with me through the transition from individual contributor into people leader?
And after all of this time of reflection, experience, and research, we can confidently say that there are three critical areas that senior leaders often overlook when they are promoting first-time people leaders. Number one, confidence. I do not mean you as the senior leader, your confidence in the person you’re promoting. I’m talking about the confidence in the person being promoted. What is their confidence level in their new role?
Only about 25% of new people, leaders feel confident in their ability to take on this new role.
On the other end of that, there is a percentage that are overly confident in their new role. They think, “Hey, I kicked ass over here as an individual contributor. Of course, I’m going to kick ass over here as a manager!” And we know that that is not necessarily the case. So you as the senior leader, check in on the confidence level. We don’t want either extreme. Let’s help find the way that they’ve got that solid confidence, appropriate confidence, for this time of transition.
The second thing that’s often overlooked is clarity. Again, as a senior leader, don’t make an assumption that your new manager is clear on the vision and expectations. Just because they’ve been maybe working with you for a long period of time, or they’ve been at your organization for 5, 10 years, don’t assume that they are crystal clear on the vision of the organization, the vision of the department or their team, or that they are clear on what your expectations are over the next 90 days, 6 months.
Is it complete autonomy, do they get to run with their new role? Or do you want to have side-by-side parallel transition with lots of collaboration? Make sure that you are providing that clarity, those parameters, for big vision and the day-to-day on their transition. The third mistake that we see is in regards to skills. Yes, did they have amazing skills as an individual contributor that got them promoted, and were they showing some tendencies for some natural leadership?
I am sure! That’s why they were promoted. But we can’t assume that they have the proper skills to now be a people leader. As an individual contributor, they needed to have more of a deep, hard-skill knowledge; the institutional knowledge that they needed for their day-to-day role, for their tasks. But now we’re asking them to broaden their soft skills, more of the leadership capability. Do not assume that they have these skills.
In fact, 60% of new leaders don’t receive any training – no leadership training.
We are setting them up for absolute failure by not providing that training. In fact, only about half of new managers are actually seen as being effective. So we want to provide that upskilling. Do not assume that they know everything they need to know. So as a senior leader, please be on the watch out for these three critical areas that are often overlooked as you are assessing for promotion or starting that early transition with somebody in their new people leader role!