Fear played itself out in various means. At its' extreme, fear of death motivated people to stay in line. But fear of being criticized; fear of failure; fear of injury or harm; fear of humiliation or rejection; fear of the unknown; all of these prevented individuals from doing anything that might upset the status quo. As long as one had the basic necessities of life there was little likelihood that someone would take a risk. For all intents and purposes, people were paralyzed by fear. And those in positions of authority used this knowledge to take and retain power.
We would like to think that as we have matured as individuals and as a society that this primal instinct would have subsided. After all, we live in a civilized democracy in which one is essentially free to express themselves and to make educated choices.
But in truth, fear remains our default response. This continues to be evident in many levels of leadership. Those individuals entrusted with authority, acting out of their own fear of failure or rejection, repeatedly use fear as their primary tool to motivate others. In the workplace the fear of death is clearly not an option. But the fear of termination or the fear of humiliation are almost as effective weapons to control the activities of the employees. During this period that we call the Great Recession, fear has become an even more effective option because, with the high levels of personal debt, one can simply not risk becoming unemployed.
What a commentary it is when, at a time when we most need to have a positive message, we are instead guided by fear...
At one time in our history, fear was a protective emotion that evoked our flight or fight response to danger. The adrenalin that our bodies produced spurred a defensive posture for our protection. But in the absence of danger, fear is an entirely inappropriate response to the challenges we face and it is an especially inappropriate way in which to provide leadership.
Fear does not encourage, it criticizes. Fear does not produce an environment of safety but one of dismay. Fear does not promote creativity, it provokes stagnation. Fear does not provide hope, it instils hopelessness. Fear does not free, it paralyzes. Fear produces only more fear.
We must have leaders who approach each day with joy. They do not deny the realities or the challenges that they and their teams face. But rather than view these as obstacles they look at them as opportunities. Leaders must inspire by communicating a vision in which all things are possible.
Imagine reporting to your workplace knowing that your ideas and contributions will be welcomed; where your best efforts are appreciated even when they came up short; where you are supported and encouraged ; and where hope produces more hope. Surely this in the primary objective of every leader!
If you lead, I encourage you to discard fear as an option. It never was a good idea and today it is even worse. Instead, instill a passion for the opportunity set before you. If you have a joy towards the goal, your team will join you in a manner that you can never fully appreciate until you try.
When fear is not an option, neither is failure.