Leading Through “The Fear Factor”

Blog image - fear factorI had an interesting conversation with a corporate executive earlier this week, where we were talking about what he kept referring to as “The Fear Factor.”  It seems throughout his career, he’s been exposed to otherwise outstanding colleagues and team members that lived every day in fear.  Fear of losing respect, fear of losing face, fear of losing authority, fear of failure, even fear of losing their jobs.  The element of fear governed the routine behavior of entire companies – it grew to become a toxic aspect of their culture.

How does “The Fear Factor” become so predominant in some individuals, teams, and organizations?  There are a couple of reasons that come to mind here:

  1. Overcontrol
  2. Undertrust (I don’t think this is a word, so I made it up)

Let’s look at them in turn:

We overcontrol when we insist on telling our team how to get things done.  As leaders we must learn to employ the concept of the Leader’s Intent: The end state we’re looking for when the task or project is done, key tasks to be accomplished to get us there, and the purpose for each (“the why”).

But, notice we don’t explain the how.  That’s for our team to develop. Then they own it. Their how may be different than how we would do it, but if it’s within our intent then it’s up to us to underwrite their how. Level Five leaders live in the world of intent.  They know it’s their duty to grow leaders, not followers. Overcontrol is the arch enemy of growing leaders.

We undertrust when we adopt “The Fear Factor” as our leadership style.  We try to lead by position, telling people what to do because of our nametag.  “I’m the manager” positional leaders say, “and that’s why you have to do it (or you’ll go away).”  Undertrusting leaders use fear as a weapon, and they actively seek to protect themselves by never trusting their team members – just tell them what to do, and keep trust out of it.  Undertrusting leaders are the ones who don’t understand why they can’t keep good people. The answer is fear.

Our task is to beat back “The Fear Factor” of overcontrol and undertrust if we are serious about leading our culture to a new level of excellence.  Use the Leader’s Intent as part of your tool box of leadership skills.  Lead by example, not position.  Listen. Trust. Empower.  Watch what happens.  You’ll be surrounded by confidence, not fear.

Enjoy the journey!