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Avert “quiet quitting” by inspiring your employees

Leaders who inspire their team by connecting them to a larger purpose and role modeling company values can stem "quiet quitting."

6 min read


quiet quitting

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When I first met Jennifer, vice president of a large telecom company, her team was underperforming, and she confided that she feared she wouldn’t reach the ambitious goals her manager had set for her department. She was afraid of failing and blamed it on her team’s lack of motivation. When I asked what it was that made her team demotivated, she declared, “They are all lazy!” As I was probing deeper, Jennifer revealed that she believed that the people on her team should give their best because they were paid well, which is a rational reason for showing up at work.  

Jennifer wasn’t aware that the primary driver of employee engagement is not rational, but emotional. Research conducted by The Corporate Leadership Council shows that emotions are 400% more powerful than rational reasons in motivating people to give their very best. This means that an employee who is emotionally engaged puts in four times the effort of one motivated only by rational reasons, such as pay or benefits.

Essential role of a leader

The leader plays an essential role in energizing people to avoid “quiet quitting.” According to Gallup, leaders account for 70% of effective employee engagement. Unaware of her part in this essential role, Jennifer, because she felt helpless, blamed her team and used anger and threats to try to motivate them. This backfired because it depressed the team’s morale even more, and they responded with resentment and distrust, emotions that sapped the energy needed to perform. The old carrot-and-stick method had failed and Jennifer’s team had quietly quit.

The question is, if emotions are more powerful in motivating than rational reasons, what emotion would help Jennifer get the best out of her team?

Inspiration: The most powerful leadership emotion

Research by Zenger/Folkman shows that the ability to inspire is the most powerful leadership competency, distinguishing extraordinary leaders from all others. It’s an ability that engages people’s hearts, not just their minds, which makes them actually look forward to and become totally absorbed in their work. In these instances, people feel fulfilled and perform at their best. When people are inspired, they approach their work with more optimism, creativity and self-esteem.

You may recognize the difference when you are served by an emotionally engaged client representative of a company. While one person might mechanically process your request, another one — without even being asked — goes out of her way to solve your problem. That’s the difference between an inspired and an uninspired employee.

Many managers I have talked to share the belief that they needed to be charismatic to inspire, and because they saw themselves as not charismatic, this kept them from even trying. The good news is, there is a pallet of leadership behaviors that are effective in inspiring people, and they can be learned. Let’s look at five of those behaviors.

5 leadership behaviors that quell “quiet quitting”

1. Connect to purpose

While most organizations have a vision and mission statement, very few people in organizations can connect their role and the work they are doing to a purpose that inspires them. One major reason I have observed is that their individual aspirations — what they care about — are not aligned with the vision and mission of the organization. Leaders who overlook the vital step of connecting the organization’s purpose with employees’ higher aspirations fail to inspire them.

2. Communicate with enthusiasm

Emotions are contagious and communicating your vision with enthusiasm, exuding passion and energy, will create an emotional resonance with your audience. People will feel more inspired when they see the spark in your eyes and your confident posture and gestures of excitement. For example, I watched audiences sit seemingly disengaged when the CFO of their company entered the room for his yearly financial report. As he began shuffling his papers around and started to speak, people sat in apathy. Then, as he progressed in presenting his company’s numbers, he became more and more animated, enthusiastic and passionate. When he finished, the audience erupted in a standing ovation that lasted long after he had left the podium. You can do this by acting and sounding enthusiastic yourself while connecting with others in the room, including making eye contact.

3. Set challenging-enough goals

Inspiring leaders provide a clear sense of purpose, but they also set goals that mark significant achievements in fulfilling that purpose. Setting challenging yet achievable goals helps to overcome apathy that can lead to “quiet quitting” and to inspire more engagement. However, there is a fine balance to setting goals that are both challenging and achievable at the same time. When you are setting ambitious goals, as was the case with Jennifer, it is critical to also create the conditions in which, with people’s best effort, these goals are achievable. By practicing compassionate support, Jennifer was able to understand what people needed to succeed and support them accordingly.

4. Provide compassionate support

You can create positive one-on-one relationships along with team relationships by being a great listener, taking interest in the needs and ideas people have, and connecting emotionally. Connecting with people in that way will also help you understand their needs and align your vision with their highest aspirations. This was one of the leadership behaviors Jennifer decided to learn and practice. Because many of her team members worked remotely, it became even more important for her to connect with them so that they didn’t feel isolated.

5. Role model living up to values

Provide a powerful role model of living up to the values the company is promoting. Jennifer’s company promoted a set of core values, such as treating everybody with respect, which she explicitly requested from her team. Yet, Jennifer’s team felt disrespected by her behavior and it had negatively affected people’s morale. To inspire them, she had to live up to the values she asked her team to live up to.

Who is the leader you admire most? What behaviors of that leader do you find most inspiring? What inspiring behaviors would you like to learn?


Reiner Lomb is the founder and CEO of BoomerangCoach, an executive coaching firm specializing in leadership and career development, innovation, and transformational change. He recently published his second book, ASPIRE: Seven Essential Emotions for Leading Positive Change, No Matter Where You Are, which covers seven emotion-based leadership skills that are critical for mobilizing people and creating positive change. Reiner’s mission is to mobilize and develop leaders to create a more sustainable and positive future for all.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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