Let’s be truthful. A significant number of senior leaders lead by intimidation. One of the reasons why Donald Trump’s iconic “you’re fired” became so popular is because it’s exactly what can happen. Once, when I was conducting 360 assessments, a senior leader’s peers and subordinates complained to me that the leader responded to threats from his boss, the CEO, by making similar threats to his people and sometimes even firing them — the classic case of abuse being passed down.
This type of behavior is not healthy in either business or personal relationships, and here are four good reasons:
1.Fear Discourages Risk Taking. Great companies are constantly innovating. This is only possible where leaders at all levels are willing to take risks. In fact, more and more companies are rewarding risk-taking to inspire innovation as well as motivating leaders to go for big outcomes. But it won’t matter what rewards are on the table if a leader is afraid of facing an intimidating boss. The leader will not take meaningful risks or even present them as options. Instead, it will be business-as-usual, including modest bets that the leader can spin as risks at his or her year-end evaluation.
2.Fear Leads to Leadership Churn. Recently, I was meeting with a former colleague who had taken an entrepreneurial position and made an enormous amount of money. When I asked what motivated him to accept his new role, he explained that the fear of failing in the new position felt safe in comparison with the fear of facing his old boss. He then gave me several examples of other leaders who had bailed from positions with similarly intimidating bosses. They all had the same reaction. It would be better to work without the stress of the old job, even if the new job was riskier. At least they could sleep at night and live without the constant fear of endangering their health.
3.Fear Cripples Employee Engagement. How can I possibly feel comfortable mentoring my employees if my boss is constantly breathing down my back to deliver numbers, or else? And how can I accept my employees’ mistakes as valuable experiential learning when my own boss is so unforgiving. I can’t. My message to my people will be: deliver, deliver, deliver, or else. Ouch. This is a far cry from what my people, especially Millennials want to hear. It may get me short-term results, but it’s guaranteed not to build trust, talent, loyalty and future leaders who know the right way to lead.
4.Fear Cripples Diversity. Hiring a diverse workforce is one thing. Getting the benefits of diversity is another. Diversity can only deliver business value if diverse ideas and positions are allowed to be heard. In a fear-driven culture, half the people are too afraid to speak up and share their ideas. The other half are too afraid to listen because it would mean taking their attention away from their main goal: avoiding their boss’s wrath.
If you lead with fear, you will die by fear. Your people will not be loyal. You will not be liked except for results. And you will lack the ability to deliver in the long run. Simply put, you will be in big trouble. If you have this tendency, get help now — an executive coach for you and a team coach for your leadership team — while there is still time.