Fear vs. Respect: Why Leading Through Fear is Never the Answer

Fear in the workplace is more common than one might expect. On the surface, it can be fairly unnoticeable, yet it can plague your organization like a nasty virus. Fear can be difficult to pinpoint, but, often, if it’s having an influence on the organization, it can be found coming from those in leadership positions.

The inverse of leading by fear is leading by respect. Although the two methods may look similar, and both can have powerful impacts on your business, they yield vastly different results. The two leadership styles of Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi come to mind. Both men were powerful leaders. Yet the former instilled fear in his men while the latter empowered with respect.

Sometimes, leading with fear appears effective in the short term; it can cause immediate action, and ensure temporary accountability, but its biggest problem is that it creates a sense of false urgency in people, a heightened sense of anxiety which in turn creates a lot of activity, but not a lot of productivity. Often, leaders who have reached a point of desperation will resort to leading with fear. However, there are some drawbacks to joining this dark-side method of leading. The alternative is a respect-based leadership model. This practice is done by great organizational leaders and can have enormously positive results in your organization. You don’t need to wait until you take a values-based class to get it right. It’s a leadership change that you can begin implementing more of, today.

Here are some key characteristics that separate the two leadership styles. The intention here is to help you identify each type and focus on leading from a place of respect instead of fear.

Fear Disempowers
Fear-based leadership turns employees’ attention inward instead of outward. Staff members who are led by fear go into survival mode. They are no longer interested in the company’s outcome, the quality of the product or service, or the customer experience. Instead, they’re concerned with keeping their jobs and not stepping on toes. This can create an organizational shift in focus elsewhere from implementation of the strategy or the care of the customer, and a business that doesn’t focus on the main things, just doesn’t last.

Respect Empowers
Great leaders make those around them better. They find ways to discover the best in people and enable their full potential. Their energy is infectious; they inspire others to go above and beyond the call of duty without coercion. Those inspired folks, in turn, go out to influence more people, and a domino effect of possibility occurs in the organization.

When employees are empowered, they’re focused externally, and more likely to look outside themselves and put their attention on bettering their team and the customer experience. This is a winning strategy.

Fear Kills Communication & Disrupts Creativity
Leading with fear breeds anxiety, cynicism, distrust, and intimidation, all of which can be poisonous to any team or organization. These consequences make transparency and honesty nearly impossible, killing necessary forms of communication. If people are too afraid to bring up an issue, there is a clear dysfunction within the organization. With fear, the rational discussion gets limited, which ultimately leads to poor decision making and a lack of action.

Fear creates concerned employees who are looking out for their jobs, not wanting to rock the boat, and taking steps to ensure they don’t upset anyone. These are not the behaviors of an innovative, vibrant company. This totally disrupts the ability to change, be creative, and innovate, all essential components of a growing business in a competitive market. Fear directs people into rigid positions, promoting virtually zero freedom for imagination or ingenuity. If your organization behaves this way for too long, it will become stuck in the stringent ways of survival while the competition will seize the opportunity to surge ahead.

Respect Encourages Communication & Creativity
Leading with respect means showing respect. Powerful leaders put their employees and their team, first. This helps to earn their trust, and when there’s trust, there’s clear and open communication.

Another component of respect is being a team player. Instead of having all the answers and calling all the shots, these leaders look to others for ideas and feedback, ask for help with their weaknesses, and admit when they’re wrong, all with authenticity. Their team and employees sense a real person with whom they can communicate, rather than an all-powerful being they should dread.

Fear is a Disguise
Fear-based leadership is often used to cover the leader’s fear and insecurities, whether they’re aware of it or not. A leader using this approach usually does so to hide behind their wall of intimidation and organizational authority. It won’t always be consciously noticeable by others, but they’ll be able to feel it. Eventually, it influences employees to create their own doubts and lack of confidence.

Respect is Genuine
Leaders who are truly respected, aren’t “done” once they’ve achieved a certain title. They continue to earn the esteem of their employees, regardless of their position. A common trait of great leaders is their ability to set the pace by being the visible symbol of what they want others to become, inspiring others through their own efforts. Those who gain respect lead by example.

Characteristics of respected leaders are those who are passionate about the purpose of the organization. Their passion for the company’s direction is contagious and influential. Take away their title and virtually nothing would change. They would still act as leaders in any position they’re put in; their drive and devotion to people and the organization is what keeps them going, continuing to empower and affect those around them.

Fear-based leadership isn’t true leadership; this is a style that occurs as dominating others, bossing people around and barking orders, seeing their constituents as commodities they can use for their purposes. True leaders don’t seek petty recognition or external validation. They don’t use threats as a management tool. Real leadership empowers the people around them, with passion, purpose, and leading by example. It can be a small change in style with a massive shift in outcome. May the force of respected leadership be with you.

©  Tom Flick   All rights reserved.


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