We see the use of Fear Based Leadership everywhere we turn. To some it could be seen as the new norm in leadership. From politics to pop culture it’s all around us. While it makes great TV with it’s shock and awe, it certainly isn’t real leadership. Simon Sinek’s quote best describes the role of a leader, “Great leaders inspire everyone to take action”. Inspire is not a tactic that those who lead with fear are familiar with.

Aren’t we all familiar with leaders who lead with fear?

It starts when we’re children, “If you don’t clean your room, you’ll be grounded”. We could argue this isn’t fear, this is outlining the consequences. At first children need to learn the and understand consequences. As adults we understand this clearly upfront. If you don’t show up for work, you’re not going to get paid. If you don’t show up to work repeatedly, you’ll get fired. We understand the consequences implicitly. A business owner that informs a team member that they’ll be fired if they don’t show up to work aren’t leading with fear. They are stating the consequences explicitly. Someone who leads with fear is doing something far worse. They are taking away choice and creating unreasonable consequences. “If you don’t do it my way, you’ll be fired” is just one example. Despite a rational argument for an alternative way to achieve a goal, which could be faster, cheaper or easier. This example removes any choice in the matter and creates an unreasonable consequence.

Our favorite bad guy as of late is Negan from The Walking Dead (no spoilers don’t worry). Negan is “leading” with fear. If those around him don’t agree to do his bidding (removing any option for freewill) he will… well, kill them (the consequence). While this is extreme and from a TV show it provides a perfect example. Consider a vendor who threatens to pull out their service or double their rates if your business doesn’t stop collaborating with their competitor. Or a manager that forces a team member to do something against their original employment agreement.

Fear Based Leadership strips freewill and creates unreasonable consequences.

Many freelancers and contractors work under Fear Based Leadership everyday. These models of employment help an employer determine fit, skill level and capability. They do open up a door for Fear Based Leadership. The freelancer or contractor is in constant fear of not having work (depending on the contract agreements). Someone who uses fear based leadership could easily create unreasonable consequences, “I’ll terminate your contract”. Which then results in the elimination of freewill, “you don’t do it my way”. The restriction of freewill could be an unethical approach. It’s also been proven that fear reduces motivational factors.

Using Fear Based Leadership tactics provide short-term wins.

  1. Team members will attempt to run.

Most people will run when their life is in danger. In an employment situation if team members see that their job is at stake constantly they make the choice to run and find a new job. It may not be quick or easy, but over time they leave. Putting the effects of trauma and emotional abuse aside in this example. A team member that doesn’t have the freewill to execute their job and is constantly in fear of being fired won’t last. Some jobs require specific steps to get the job done- this is different. A process or procedure to execute a task, is laid out, documented and logical. A micromanaging boss on the other hand is completely different.

  1. No “buy in” to the mission.

Team members who buy into the mission of an organization or leader are more likely to stick around. They see the value in the mission and want to contribute. If a leaders mission is to make the most money at any cost. It’s impossible for team members to buy in. Team members would see the pattern and understand that “at any cost” would mean any number of things to them personally. No future raises, scamming vendors and customers or any number of other unethical behaviors. On the other hand if a team member sees the mission as one of service. To provide the best service to customers, no matter the cost. The best product or whatever the positive mission, they stick around.

  1. Prevents personal relationships.

We’ve all heard the saying “people don’t leave jobs they leave managers”. This is exactly the case in Fear Based Leadership. Fear Based Leadership removes the chances of developing any type of personal relationship. Are you going to bond with the person who is threating your livelihood? Are you going to care about this person’s weekend or vacation plans? On the other side, a fear based leader doesn’t build real relationships. How could they? If you don’t do things their way you’ll face an unreasonable consequence. That means that your way, your approach, your story doesn’t matter. When personal relationships are developed team members are more likely to stick around.

  1. Don’t bring others in.

Would you bring someone into a situation where unreasonable consequences are at play? Would you refer a potential candidate to an organization that’s mantra is “my way or the highway”. Certainly not. For an organization to grow and expand you must bring in the best people for the long run. The stories of team members get heard outside of an organization, preventing good candidates from applying.

Now we’d like to hear from you? Have you seen examples of Fear Based Leadership? How else does Fear Based Leadership impact the culture of a company and it’s employees? Share your thoughts below.