I can’t think of any speakers who would tell an audience of MBAs that their key tool should be fear, or any business consultants who’d sniff
around a firm and say ‘it’s alright, just not enough fear.’ This is because the days where it was believed that fear was an effective management tool are long gone, and rightly so.
Fear is terrible for a business. It can come from many places; the economic or social climate, a new or dangerously successful competitor, and so on. But these things are factors we are less able to change than our management style.
Management and leadership which relies on fear risks sending employees, on all levels, into a survivalist sort of mode. A sort of reaction where yes, they may seem to work harder and yes, they may hit their deadlines and tow the line, but they don’t trust each other and they live with the constant anxiety of loosing their jobs or some other repercussions. This sort of environment makes people quit their jobs, take time off work, makes people ill, and doesn’t do anything for morale or efficiency in the long term.
I think most people would want to avoid managing a team or company like this, but that’s not the problem – it’s actually quite easy to lead like this purely by accident, without being aware it’s what you’re doing.
Often, fear is used by people who are themselves afraid, and this bubbles over into their interactions with those around them. Leaders might be afraid of loosing their own positions, or be worried about the performance of their team or company, and this can make them subconsciously use fear.
Sometimes these things are personal, or to do with personality. If a leader is frustrated at work or in their personal lives, it might be difficult for them to persuade, charm, and engage with their team in order to get things done without upsetting people or damaging morale.
Using fear can be very effective at forcing things through and getting things done quickly in the short term, so it can be tempting to take the easy route and use solely the stick rather than the carrot.
Chances are, people who are doing this aren’t nasty types, nor ruthless uncaring megalomaniacs. They probably don’t realise what they’re doing. If you think you might be using fear in your leadership style, don’t worry, you can change things: the most important thing you can do is increase your self-awareness. Ask someone you trust what they think, and be honest with yourself. You might not like the truth, but without acknowledging it, change is impossible.