Is leading in fear a good strategy?

July 16, 2014   /   byMaria Garcia  / Categories :  Blog


What is fear?  Fear is an emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding or freezing from traumatic events.

Leaders need to be very careful between inducing fear vs accountability. Fear stops people from thriving, as it takes away motivation and makes people unhappy. It kills creativity, hurts self esteem, and most importantly- fear is not taken well by employees and they will end up looking for employment elsewhere.

Many leaders make the mistake of instilling fear in their employees, instead of simply holding them accountable without all the emotions, drama or intimidation. Showing too many emotions such as anger, anxiety or just plain fear can stop an individual from thriving. It is known that people who feel fear, or feel intimidated could react in many ways including avoiding the individual, or be in a fight or flight mode.

A leader who puts his or her emotions aside when disciplining, coaching or reprimanding must be very tactical and to the point.  If part of the consequences are a verbal, or written warning- do so in the most effective way.  Start by stating the problem, mistake or bad action that contributed to the disciplinary action.  Then move on.  Don’t overreact, intimidate or demoralize the person.  It’s the behavior you are trying to correct, not the individual.

For every negative corrective action, state at least one positive thing the employee has done right.  A person may make a mistake in one area, but excels in another area.  This needs to be recognized, especially when you are delivering a negative correction.  Another factor you should take into consideration is the need to be objective on what the circumstances were that led to the person not being able to be in total control of the outcome.  Look at the circumstances, and pinpoint the factors that could have led to the short coming.  Were they under staffed?  Was there an employee on vacation?  Did someone call out sick?  Were there technical difficulties?  Did they work a shift that was not allowing them to accomplish what they were supposed to? Always look at the whole picture before coming to a conclusion.

Being objective is one of the most important aspects of being an effective leader.  Everyone in the organization needs to be held accountable for their own actions whether you are the owner, a manager, or an hourly employee.  As a manager, you need to individually hold your employees accountable.  If someone did not do their job that required a team effort- are you going to punish only one person?  That would not be fair.

If you choose to lead your team in fear, not only are you killing creativity, but you are also demoralizing your team members.  You are sending mixed messages about accountability and you will lose trust with your team.

By leading with intimidation or fear, you will not only lose trust, but also respect- ending up with no team at all.  People learn by making mistakes.  If they are being severely punished by making mistakes- they won’t even try in fear of making another mistake.  You will end up with a solo making of the decision organization and a do it yourself culture.

Being a manager and leading a team is not easy.  However, it can be very rewarding if you act as a caring supportive and understanding leader, instead of  being intimidating.   Be a leader everyone wants to work for. A trustworthy, civilized leader that is objective and fair.

Have you had to deal with a boss that leads by intimidation and fear?  We would love to hear from your personal experiences, or from others that you know who have experienced this!

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