Leading by Fear

Published by mpume on

In my years in corporate, I have always been fascinated and saddened by managers or leaders that lead by fear.  Please allow me to use interchangeably the words manager and leader.  As a new manager or leader, it would be great to consider some of the issues that are being raised even if you don’t agree with them.  When a manager manages by fear somehow they miss the unintended consequence of their behavior, they are not even aware of what they are doing.  When leading by fear you are somehow guaranteed that things will get done because people are scared of losing their jobs. The question is whether the employees are being efficient, effective, applying their minds to the work they are supposed to do or are they just actioning what they have been told to do because they are even scared to give their professional opinions.

When led by fear, employees are scared of losing their jobs, being humiliated, being made to feel incompetent and useless in front of their colleagues.  Demeaning any human being is just not cool and it does not make you a better person. It actually just shows off that you have power issues and insecurities.  There is no reason whatsoever even if the person is incompetent for you to humiliate them in front of other people, I don’t care what your reasoning is.  In reality, the mere fact that you are a manager and have authority you already have employees that are scared of you just based on your position.  The position you hold already make some employees scared of you.

A few years ago I accompanied my mother to go to buy material, she was making curtains.  When we were in the shop one of the owners started shouting at his staff for whatever reason. I was not even sure what the issue was but the look of fear and humiliation in that man’s face made my blood boil.  I confronted the owner and the point I made is that he must never ever think he is earning points in front of customers by shouting at his staff.  He just needed to sort out the issue and deal with his staff afterward and not in front of customers.  I have never been to buy from that shop again because what that man did went against my values and it was just plain rude.

There is nothing wrong in challenging and calling things out as a leader but that does not mean you have to do it in a demeaning and humiliating way.  Your employees will deliver and respect you when you respect them and do not play the humiliation card as part of your leadership style.

The unintended consequences of leading by fear are that it:

  • Negatively impacts innovation within the organization because employees are scared to share ideas, opinions, ask questions and propose new ways or improvements that could be implemented because their ideas and themselves could be ripped into pieces and made to feel small.
  • Discourages employees to call things out, speak out, give feedback even when they can see that things are going to go wrong. It encourages corridor talk because employees would rather gossip amongst themselves about their views rather than letting management know their views or opinions. They will just keep quiet even when they think that what is being done is not beneficial for the company or they clearly know that it is going to go wrong.
  • Kills the confidence of your employees and makes them walk on eggshells even the ones that used to perform very well because they don’t know when they will be called out and belittled.
  • Impacts the personal brand of your employees. I have witnessed instances where individuals have been dragged under the bus in meetings where they are not even present to defend themselves. Situations where the person being belittled is a highly competent, capable individual who has their brand tarnished because you as a manager you are making them sound incompetent.
  • Creates a bad culture of leaders that do not see anything wrong with being mean to their employees and actually getting away with it because employees are scared to challenge them.
  • Leads to good competent staff leaving your organization because they do not appreciate the way you manage or lead them.
  • Can lead to loss of sales if your behavior as a so-called leader or manager is witnessed by customers like me who cannot tolerate that behavior.

The question is how are you leading your team? Are you a source of fear within your team? Are you costing the company money with your behavior? Leading by fear is just a no-no, it does not add value to the organization, even if the work is getting done the unintended consequences are too much.


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