As I was researching this topic, I found a ton of mixed reviews. Some felt that fear is the only way to lead (Machiavelli); some felt that fear is unhealthy in all cases; and others felt that fear can be healthy as long as it’s managed and addressed as it appears. I, personally, take the latter of the three positions. The old adage says, “Everything is good in moderation.”
Now, I feel I need to break this down into two categories: fear of the future and fear of an individual. I believe fear of the future can be healthy, but can also be unhealthy, but fear of an individual is never healthy.
- Fear of the future at its healthiest is good. Change is a scary thing, and as long as we’re not consumed by this fear, we can remain as functional human beings navigating our ever changing world. Nothing in this world is guaranteed, but as long as we can minimize the fear we feel for something that hasn’t even come to pass yet, we can create healthy change and even foresee potential issues. At it’s unhealthiest is typically when the future rests in the hands of an individual. Questions like, “Will they fire me?” or “I’ve heard all these rumors of meetings about results, am I next?” When this happens, people naturally become less productive because they’re more focused on keeping their job than doing their job.
For example, I worked at an organization that was heavily sales focused. A lot of things were changing and a lot of people were being demoted, shifting around, or leaving. My coworkers and I would take our time (that we’re being paid for to be productive) having conversations about our fears and our speculations of what’s going to happen to us in the future. Will we be able to keep our jobs or are we going to experience the same fate as our peers? With this fear and the lack of anything being communicated to us other than people being upset with performance overall, we couldn’t focus on our work, talking to prospects, or closing on those prospects.
- Fear of an individual, in my opinion, is never healthy. Machiavelli once said that if you can’t be feared and loved, then it’s better to be feared rather than loved. This must be true for dictators. If the people don’t love you, then for you to remain in power, you must be feared. I don’t believe this is healthy leadership, and it’s far from a servant’s model. I’m sure we can all reflect on numerous times that we feared a leader of ours rather than love them. Almost always, it’s not a pleasant experience.
It is our jobs as leaders to help minimize the crippling power of fear. It’s natural for people to view other people in authority as being worthy of fear, but we must nip those notions in the bud, create a feeling of security, and give those we lead a safe space in which to work.
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