Fear as a motivator and leadership tactic is not a new technique. We have many examples throughout history of politicians, religious leaders, and business leaders who have used fear to prompt the desired action on behalf of those they held power over. Even the media perpetuates fear. They package it up and sell it to us as the force our lives should be guided by. A compass with fear as our true north.
The most recent and notable example of this was during the COVID-19 pandemic response and subsequent lockdowns. In the short term, the desired outcome was met. People followed the rules through a time of uncertainty. They stayed as safe as they could with mounds of conflicting information they had to sift through. Then the unintended consequences of fear showed up.
Division. The truth of the matter is that fear, when used as a long-term solution by those in leadership positions, will eventually divide those they are leading. It is not the reliable true north of a compass. Fear has been shown to be a sustaining force behind racism, ageism, sexism, and essentially all the “‘ism’s”. Out of fear, people look at another individual and ask: “Why should I be afraid of you? What’s different about you that I need to fear?” Really, the questions you should be asking are: How are we similar? What is our common ground? How can we effectively work together?
In a human-centered workplace today, fear can not continue to hold the place of power it has in the past.
What happens to a workplace if fear is allowed to reign supreme?
- It leads to people not sharing their true selves and values.
- Fear slowly eats away at people and damages their mental and emotional health.
- It leads to assumptions, rather than a willingness to get to know them for their own merit.
- Fear kills creativity, confidence, and collaboration within teams.
- It prolongs toxic workplace cultures and attitudes.
What can be done?
Face Fear – Leaders in the workplace need to lean into their own personal fears. Get curious about them. Ask yourself the hard questions. There are consequences whether you run from your fears or face them. Make sure you understand the consequences of both decisions, unintended or not.
Embrace Uncertainty – You cannot shy away from not having all the answers. Use these occasions to leverage the expertise of your employees for the benefit of the whole team. Encourage them to speak up, share ideas, get creative, find solutions, and collaborate. Your job is to lead, not to know everything.
Get Vulnerable – Vulnerability can be an incredible strength if you choose to show it. When you are vulnerable, you are also displaying humility and self-awareness, both key components of effective leaders. You admit that you make mistakes, but are willing to apologize, fix them, and learn from them. You acknowledge others have more experience and ability in their respective skill sets and you embrace that to further the overarching team or organizational goals. When you display the courage to share, you lay the groundwork for others to follow and reap the benefits.
Shifting leadership away from fear-based takes work. There will be bumps in the road and times you’ll question if all the effort is truly worth it. At Akramoff, we believe that any effort to embrace human-centered leadership and workplaces IS worth it! The results will speak for themselves.
You have a choice today:
Let fear rule over and dictate your life.
Use fear as a tool to challenge yourself and foster growth in your leadership journey.
We know which one we’d choose!