Check Fear at the Door

Fear GraphicThere are Transactional Leaders, Coaching Leaders, and Charismatic Leaders. Some leaders prefer a Command and Control style, where others prefer a more Laissez Fair approach. Many leaders motivate with a carrot, while others prefer to cast a vision bigger than the job itself. There are hundreds of different leadership styles, and no single style is always right all the time, but there is one that has no place in today’s workplace.

Few leaders set out to be a Fear-Based Leader. Who would willingly fill the role of company villain? Most leaders envision themselves much more like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk than Caligula and yet fear-based workplace cultures aren’t hard to find. Occasionally on the path to inspiration and vision, leaders facing adversity take a detour to unhealthy leadership styles.

So what went wrong for these well-intended leaders?

Building a workforce that is anxious and stressed was never the end goal. Leaders who use fear as a motivator just lack better tools to create results. In the end, the leader feels more obligated to provide results for the organization/shareholders than they feel obligated to supporting and developing their team. When results are the only metric being measured, the collateral damage of the team’s mental health is a non-factor.

Making your employees fear you (or fear not hitting their goals) may work for a short time, but here are 3 reasons why you should check fear at the door:

  • Your company can’t afford it. The ripple effects of using fear as a motivator are extensive. From hostile work environment claims to negative glass door reviews, leadership bullying is costly and damaging. Stress in the workplace costs organizations $300 Billion a year in workplace accidents, missed workdays, medical interventions, turnover, etc. There are 100 other ways to lead a team to success and provide bottom line results. Try all of those first before you put bullying on the table.
  • Your team doesn’t deserve it. At some point, each person on your team was selected (or retained year over year) because they were viewed as an asset and the right talent to produce results. Respect those team members enough to work with them and coach them toward success. High performers will be high performers wherever they go. They won’t stay someplace where they aren’t having fun. While you’re cracking the whip, your high performers are working on an exit plan. The employees who stay will never be honest with you. They’ll keep their heads down and try to avoid being noticed as much as possible. They’ll hide their mistake and potentially even lie just to look good to you so they avoid your wrath. Silent, terrified employees don’t collaborate or innovate.
  • You’re better than that. The legacy you leave on the organization should never be “made shareholders happy; made everyone else miserable.” Be the person that people WANT to work for, not the person people SURVIVE working for. Take ownership for the way you treat your employees. Take pride in being able to lead by respect and not needing to use fear as a strategic tactic. This isn’t about being soft or hands-off. Soft leaders don’t get results either. But digging in and being a part of the solution will always pay off more than beating your employees up for their errors.