You cannot lead people through fear – you can only scare them. And while scaring people can get them to do the things you want them to do in the short-term, it is an unwise leadership strategy. While this seems obvious to me, I often see leaders choose fear as a tactic to achieve a desired outcome. I also often see those same leaders fail in the long run.

Let me be clear – there is a big difference between fear and accountability. I am 100% behind holding those we lead accountable, as that is the only way to keep the wheels from falling off. A-players want, and actually expect to be held accountable, and they want to see everyone else held accountable for excellence as well. But accountability and intimidation tactics are not one in the same, and A-players do not respond well to the latter.

Consider this – 90% of the battle is won by spirit and motivation of the Army. Strategy matters, too, but a highly motivated Army is what really makes the difference in the end. If you are relying on fear to win the battle, consider surrendering now.

Use the following strategies to eradicate fear from your leadership repertoire:

Forget Rank – In most cases, you do not need to remind people of rank. In fact, doing so immediately shuts down engagement and creativity. It’s safe to assume that everyone knows who the boss is. Unless truly needed to keep order or avoid catastrophic decisions, seek out ways to make rank invisible in your organization.

Lift – Positive, inspirational leadership prevails over oppressive leadership every single time. Seek out ways to inspire and motivate your team through positive, inspirational leadership, rather than threats.

Treat Everyone The Same – We tend to treat our bosses with great care and respect. Use the way you treat your boss as a benchmark for how you treat those who report to you. If you are not treating everyone the same, you likely have a problem… not the least of which is authenticity.

Make Room For Others – Allow others in and allow them to help lead and make decisions alongside you. If you run a “my way or the highway” shop, you are in trouble. We all need help, so you might as well engineer it from the outset.

Publicize Your Leadership Philosophy – Have regular conversations about your leadership philosophy and make it public… then live up to it. Invite any and everyone to challenge you and keep you honest about it. Hint – the leadership philosophy you make public will likely not include fear.

Culture of Candor – Take on the long and hard job of creating a culture of open and honest communication in your organization, as this creates the fundamental basis for a culture absent of fear. If everyone is consistently open and honest (in a professional, non-threatening way), there are no surprises and nothing to be afraid of. Fair warning – getting this right takes a long time and a lot of commitment.

Seek Feedback – Conduct a thorough 360o review of yourself and your leadership style. Ask deliberate questions of your team to discover how you are perceived/received as a leader. Most importantly, take the feedback to heart and make changes as needed. If you’ve never done this, consider that it may be because you simply do not want to know.

Bottom line – if your people are scared of you, you are not leading them… you are only scaring them. Another word for this is oppression, and you do not have to look far to see what oppressed people do at the first opportunity – they turn on their oppressor. In the world of business, turning on your oppressor means one thing… leaving them.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


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