Heart-Centered Firing: Navigating the Dilemma of Retention with Power and Compassion

article articles by larissa coaching framework growth leadership mindfulness at work power relationships workplace Feb 20, 2023

Today, I want to discuss a topic that many leaders struggle with: the decision line of retention vs firing in the case of underperformance and how power influences these moments at work.

Here’s a take on one aspect of power dynamics and firing that maybe you haven’t heard before.  

I recently had a conversation with a heart-centered CEO who is grappling with the issue of potentially having to let go of some longtime teammates who’ve been with the company through many stages of growth. The organization has the funds to maintain the headcount, but these teammates are not performing at the level they need to be at for the business or their role, and changes haven’t occurred despite ongoing honest conversations.  

Namely, things have been escalated multiple times and the tension persists for the team and business. 


How do we know when it is worth it to keep investing in someone’s growth versus when the situation is unworkable?

A common dilemma, especially for heart-centered leaders, is how to approach this situation with compassion, generosity, and an open mind, but also not to stay in a rut where you’re burning resources and causing harm to the organization or relational ties from sustained tension. 

Here’s what I shared from the lens of power with this CEO and it may be helpful to you too. 

There are four main reasons that are important to discern about underperforming teammates and power if your business culture is committed to Power that Serves the Whole.


The first reason is that they may be unable to face their own Shadow Power on their own, which can prevent them from overcoming internal resistance to get out of the rut they’re in or to learn what is needed to perform their duties effectively. Knowing how to engage our Shadow Power is a skill that must be developed and flexed through life and even if someone is practiced in this skill, aspects of their shadow may surface that are too challenging for them to address without outside assistance. They may very truly not have the skills to face what’s tripping them up and causing cascades of tension at work. 


The second reason to discern with underperformers is if they are unwilling to face their Shadow Power. This can be due to an inner commitment to being self-serving or to being right over being committed to growth, which can ultimately harm the whole team or organization. Such cases are less common than scenario #1 in general and in workplaces oriented to humanist or teal ways of working, but they can certainly occur. 


The third reason is that there may be deep interlocking shadow dynamics between the teammate and their leader or a colleague that has resulted in them acting out sabotaging behavior. 


The fourth reason is if they may not be able to learn at the rate needed to become who the business needs them to be. This could be due to the pace of the business or the team's needs, and it may not be feasible to align their learning curve with the business’s evolution.


You can use these factors to guide your decision-making.

It's important to pause and reflect on each team member who may be struggling to perform at the necessary level and consider whether one of these four factors may be contributing to their underperformance. In fact, it's crucial to understand that if the root cause is 1, 3, or 4, the team member may not be able to overcome their underperformance on their own, no matter how much feedback they receive.


For those struggling with factor 1 (unable to navigate their shadow power), external help in the form of trauma-informed and power-informed coaching, reflective information about how they inhabit Power that Serves the Whole and Shadow Power, and tools for power literacy can be very useful. In my experience, most people want to step beyond the limits of their Shadow Power patterns, but they just don’t know how. So in many circumstances this can be a game-changing upskill. It's important to remember that team members struggling with factor 1 may be misdiagnosed as having factor 2, leading to their dismissal without the opportunity for growth and healing. 

Newsflash // This is a huge source of waste in the common approach to talent management. 

As heart-centered leaders, we know it is to everyone’s benefit and the financial benefit of the business to provide team members with the tools and opportunities to learn and explore their own power patterns, so that they can grow and perform at their best (*rather than prematurely firing them after investing so much in the relationship). 

At the same time, it's important to remember that not everyone is receptive to these tools. While this can be a changeable state, it's not always possible to move past it, as it may reveal that they are actually struggling with factor 2. 


For those affected by factor 3 (relational shadow patterns), coaching and relational healing for both parties could provide an unlock and doorway to evolution, but it's also essential to determine whether factor 2 is underlying the situation. 


For those who fall under factor 4 (challenge in rate of learning), the necessary skills may be too complex or time-sensitive for them to learn within a reasonable timeframe. This can also include individuals who are in category 1 who need to learn the skills to become more aware of and responsible for not acting from their Shadow Power. For anyone in category 4, it may be necessary to move them to a different role or let them go, and bring in someone with more mastery to perform their role.


If the root cause of underperformance is factor 2 (unwilling to take responsibility for their shadow), where the team member appears committed to the particular Shadow Power pattern or in general to Shadow Power over Power that Serves the Whole, it may be necessary to let them go. Only they can decide their inner posture. This is a difficult decision, but it's crucial to stay true to your organizational values and cultural integrity. However, if possible, it’s ideal to provide them with the tools and opportunity to reflect on their own power patterns before making this decision. 


Because our power literacy in the world of work is so low, it is regrettable that many people with factor 1 often get miscategorized as having factor 4 and fired when, in fact, they just needed some external help to learn about their unconscious power patterns. This is just one of many ways that our power illiteracy at work is costing us. By taking the time to understand the root cause of underperformance and providing support where needed, we can create more compassionate, supportive, and resilient workplace cultures.


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