Fear can be considered a motivating force because not all motivation is positive. If you have a key deliverable to a boss who is, let’s say, less than pleasant, you may meet your deadline out of fear rather than ensuring you have delivered a stellar project.

Fear as a motivator, however, is not a helpful trait in the office. It slows progress, causes hesitation, reduces productivity, and leads to stress. Fear that is rooted in your organization diminishes employee potential and causes them to work in a constant state of anxiety because of the pressure to perform.

This type of fear trickles down from the top. No matter how you lead, fear is never the answer. Fear-trodden employees are one of the largest impediments to your organizational success. Managing by fear may be a hard habit to break because you must learn to trust your employees to do the right thing. And, trust is a cumulative process.

If you are in a leadership role, stop and take note of a few things. I want you to look around. What are you really observing? Here are a few signs that may be an indication of fear.


Everyone Works Late But Accomplishes Little

If your employees feel guilty about leaving “early” even though they have already worked their scheduled hours, something is amiss. You are hiring professionals. Trust them. Adults know when they need to stay late to finish up and when they can leave on time. I guarantee you that even though people are staying late to please the boss, they are most likely not being productive. When employees worry about how they are perceived compared to the quality of their work, that is a sure sign of fear.

You Can’t Remember the Last Time a New Idea Was Introduced

When was the last time someone brought forth a new idea? If your organization lacks freshness, your employees may be afraid to advocate for new and innovative practices. Leading by fear stifles creativity and creates an environment where people are afraid to throw out ideas. Freedom of creativity and expression are the behaviors of an advanced, vibrant company who wants to grow business in a competitive market.

Numbers Rule Over Key Performance Goals

Are you more concerned about meeting numbers or whether what you are measuring makes sense? Employees need to know what key performance goals are important to the organization – and why they are important. They must understand how their job aligns to the overarching goals of the company. However, an obsession with numbers only is unhealthy. People are complex, and healthy organizations build metrics into a framework that balances metrics and personnel into a multifaceted program. In a fear-based organization, managers assign work, constantly measure results, and punish people when they don’t meet them without understanding why it is not working.

The Office is Quiet as a Mouse

How do people act when the boss walks into the room or office? Do their facial expressions change from smiling to serious? Do they stop talking and put their heads down? Do they communicate only by email and never by conversation? If you see people interacting and your mind automatically jumps to the conclusion that they are goofing off rather than having a productive conversation, ask yourself why. Silence is not always golden. Fear breeds silence and silent engagement isn’t productive or rational for the workplace.

False Narratives Are Configured Frequently

Do you have a meeting before the “real” meeting because you are afraid of what your employees will say to the boss? If everything must be reviewed through a “chain of command” before a meeting with a top leader, you are most likely configuring a narrative that you know management wants to hear instead of what they need to hear. That type of fear leads to thought suppression, forcing people to refrain from expressing their opinions. Employees should never be censured or ostracized for sharing their thoughts or perspectives.

Email is a Favorite Form of Self-Protection

If employees feel the need to have paper trails to cover their butt, they are afraid of repercussions. Email has become a form of self-protection because they don’t think that the leaders or the organization will have their back if something goes wrong.

You Hear “Yes” Far Too Often

Building a shared consensus is great but hearing “yes” to everything isn’t. If you can’t have healthy debates, it’s a sign that people are afraid to disagree. Healthy debate is good for sustained and long-term success. It’s important to encourage your team in an earnest debate to make the best possible decisions. If you create an environment where people are afraid to positively challenge ideas, employees will simply fall in line and never question authority.

People Are More Comfortable Blaming Others Than Taking Responsibility

Mistakes happen and if you are working in a stressful environment, mistakes may increase. If your employees are afraid of being punished, they will hide their mistakes which means they fester or explode later instead of handling it efficiently before the mistake takes root. If the blame game is prevalent, it’s also a sign that your employees cannot take personal responsibility because they are fearful of their employment. They are afraid to be singled out because they become the focus instead of correcting the issue.

Effective leadership and organizational success is highly dependent on the ability to empower employees to reach their fullest potential. This is accomplished best with a collaborative culture of employees who are comfortable in their environment. The earlier you can identity signs of fear within your organization, the sooner you can respond and counteract the negative effects that fear will bring. Remember, if you don’t trust your employees, there is always another company who is eager to embrace them.

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Jan Johnston Osburn is a Certified Career Coach and Organizational Consultant. Her organizational specialties are Talent Acquisition, Training, and Leadership Development. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Buckingham, UK, and has certifications in Executive Coaching and Advanced Social Media. Her website is www.YourBestLifeTodayCoaching.Com .