The Dangerous Leadership Mistake You Might Be Making In Your Business (And How to Fix It With A Single Conversation)

I recently listened to a book called “Impact Players” by Liz Wiseman, and it was one of those books where I found myself enthusiastically nodding along during my walk.

“Finally!” I thought. “Someone who gets it! Someone who can put words to what so many entrepreneurs and business leaders have experienced.” 

In the past, I wasn’t sure how to articulate what caused one team member to excel with promotions and recognition, and another to seem to miss the mark despite working hard and being an intelligent person.

Impact players put words to how incredibly valuable it is as a business owner to have players who not only work hard but who can understand the bigger picture and work hard on the right things. People who don’t just grind away at the narrow task list within their original job description but have the wisdom to look up, find the important problems that need to be solved within the organization, and take them on. 

When I realized this book was a manual on getting a raise and a promotion, I asked my whole team to read it (on the clock).

One concept in particular in the book struck me. Its mirror image is something I have seen entrepreneurs demonstrate over and over again (to their detriment) regardless of industry or experience level. 

If you have had a team of 10 or more people for multiple years, you probably understand (more deeply than you’d like to) the phenomenon Wiseman refers to as the “quit and stay.” It’s one of the reasons that engagement, not retention, is the true measure of successful leadership (but that’s a whole different article).

Team members who quit and stay are simply going through the motions. They are mentally checked out, but because they fear change or lack the confidence to go for a new job they like more, they just stay. Maybe they don’t have the worst performance or attitude, but they never become an “impact player” because they simply aren’t engaged enough to bring creativity and innovation to their role. 

When I read about “quit and stay,” it resonated deeply. 

“Ugh, yes!” I thought. There was certainly a moment of judgment thinking back on the employees who had embodied this over the years. “I wish they would have just left!” I thought angrily. 

But then I took a step back. It’s very easy to judge others for avoiding the difficult conversations around a role not being a good fit, but they aren’t the only ones. 

I asked myself how this principle might apply to business owners, and I immediately saw the equivalent dysfunction. 

I am calling this mirrored behavior the “fire and keep.” As you can probably guess, this is the same as “quit and stay,” but on the business owner’s end. 

Before I go on, please indulge my Libra leanings and allow me to explicitly acknowledge the nuance here; This is NOT a black and white issue. 

When you have W2 employees, there is a lot of HR involvement in the decision to terminate employees, and even in an “at will” employment state, you often know someone is not a fit but still needs to go through the proper warnings and processes before letting them go (this is not always the case, and you should work with an HR professional… which I am not).

Nevertheless, I have seen dysfunctional  “fire and keep” scenarios play out many times, both within my own organization and with my fellow entrepreneurs. A business owner knows the person isn’t a fit, there are one or more deal breakers, but the issues don’t feel egregious enough to fire the person outright (or they fear confrontation), so they just carry on and hope they quit. 

A lot of this comes down to avoiding hard conversations. We are afraid to rock the boat, afraid to be seen as the “mean boss,” or just don’t trust ourselves enough. Delivering this type of feedback is not easy and takes real practice and determination. 

If you have a team member who has recurring issues (performance, mindset, etc.), you must ask yourself, “Have I made it crystal clear to them that there is a problem?”

Your mastermind group knows it, your spouse probably knows it, you know it, but do they? 

Have you been totally transparent with them about your concerns?

Often the person who most needs to hear this feedback (the employee in question) is the one kept in the dark. 

Hard conversations are HARD. And delivering transparent feedback (especially on more subjective topics like attitude) can feel threatening. 

But when you “fire and keep” an employee, you give up your power, harm your business, and rob the team member in question of crucial feedback they need for their personal and professional growth.

If you have a team, I challenge you to look at where you are avoiding a difficult conversation or maybe doing a full-on “fire and keep” because avoiding it feels easier. 

It’s scary to step into your power and face difficult conversations head-on, but I promise you it is ALWAYS worth it.