Is Fear Running Your Organization?

Raffa Financial ServicesRaffa Financial Services on 08/02/2018

Having a little fear in your life isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can inspire you to do things like wear sunscreen, obey the speed limit, and “Sit up straight!” when your grandma tells you to.

But too much fear can stop you from doing important things that move you forward, like learning new skills, asking for help, or telling the truth.

When organizational leaders start basing their actions, behaviors, and decisions on fear, your business can quickly go from successful to stuck.

Managing with fear

There are definitely leaders out there who believe a significant amount of fear is necessary in order to keep people in line, and that fear is what motivates good behavior and increases productivity.

But anyone who’s ever watched a scary movie can tell you otherwise. “You idiot!” we yell at the screen, “Don’t open the closet door!”

When it comes down to it, people who are terrified rarely make well-thought-out decisions. And constant poor decision making can have dire consequences for your business. Leaders who focus on employee mentorship, support, strategy and incentives will see far better results than those who think they can scare people into doing great things.

Managing based on fear

In addition to leaders who try to use fear to motivate their teams, there are also leaders who insist on using fear as the basis for their own decisions, actions, and management style. And yes, this is equally as frightening for everyone.

What are fear-based leaders afraid of, you ask? Lots of things:

  • Failing
  • Being vulnerable
  • Appearing incompetent
  • Being reprimanded or fired
  • Not advancing in their careers
  • Losing the respect of peers or superiors

This kind of “leadership” is detrimental to the team because those who manage from a place of fear are focused on personal consequences rather than group successes.

Fear-based managers aren’t willing to take any risks that might even remotely backfire or make them look bad. This includes things like adopting new technology, letting go of outdated processes, and making organizational changes. In other words, pretty much anything that hasn’t already safely been done before.

New ideas, by definition, have uncertain outcomes, which is the worst possible scenario for someone coming from a place of fear. And so they are quickly squashed. But when it comes to business, taking the “safe” route can be much more dangerous than taking calculated risks. In an environment where new ideas are constantly being shot down, innovation dies as well. And that isn’t the kind of culture that’s going to move your organization forward.

Fear and morale

Fear-based leadership doesn’t just kill innovation. It’s also murder on morale.

Because fear managers are perpetually afraid of what will happen to them if and when anything goes wrong, they are unable to let go of things and/or trust their teams to deliver results. Instead of letting their employees take ownership of projects and feel successful, fear managers inject themselves into every meeting, every task, and every process, micromanaging everything and everyone to death.

When things do go wrong, fear managers will do or say anything to deflect the blame away from themselves and onto anyone else who happens to be nearby.

So, what happens when you mix high levels of fear and control with low levels of autonomy, trust, and support? You end up with an organization full of checked-out employees who are simply going through the motions.

Having lost all of their fire and motivation, they truly are the working dead.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If fear is the primary driving force in your organization, it’s time to make some changes.

First, figure out what it is that you’re afraid of. Then get your leadership team together and decide how you’re going to face those fears in a new and productive way. There may be some strategic planning involved, a leadership overhaul, or some major organizational change.

This may seem a little daunting, but rest assured. Any and all of these things are FAR better than perpetuating a company culture that sucks the life out of your employees— and your bottom line.


At Raffa, we work with businesses in the greater Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC area to implement strategic employee benefits plans designed to position them as coveted employers of choice. Whether you’re looking to build a healthy team, lower employee turnover, or recruit and reward executive talent, we can help.


Photo by Валерий Качаев 

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