Do you remember how it felt the first time your boss used fear and the power associated with their title to get you to do something you didn’t want to do? Chances are, you felt resentment, a sense of anger, and a bit of frustration. Yet you followed through on what they asked anyway.
The reason is that fear is a powerful motivator. Our brains constantly think about whether what we listen to will help us survive or thrive. So when we hear or experience things that create a survival mentality, it tends to motivate an action different than exists today.
However, the best leaders know that fear-based action in team members doesn’t sustain itself. The short-term results a leader might gain from using fear-based leadership pails compared to the long-term results they could experience by leading a different way.
Fear-based leadership produces short-term results, but it pails in comparison to the long-term results by leading a different way.
What is Fear-Based Leadership?
Fear-based leadership is where leaders use fear, coercion, and punishment. It’s considered a productive management style because it gets what a manager wants or needs done, but it’s difficult for team members on the receiving end. Fear-based leadership often stems from a lack of confidence or to protect one’s ego.
Leaders who use fear-based leadership tend to do the following:
- Tell people what to do
- Use one-way communication
- Focus almost entirely on metrics and outcomes
- See things as black and white
- Have surface-level relationships
If you are a manager who uses fear as a constant tactic to scare people to get things done, know it’s the easy road out. By doing this, you demonstrate your lack of leadership skills. You provide proof that money and authority are the platforms upon which your leadership is built upon.
Enough of taking the shortcut. Turn your mindset upside down by rejecting the temptation of peddling fear and instead inspire by transferring truth, confidence, and belief out of love.
You must reject the temptation to consistently use fear to motivate your team members to be a successful leader.
Fear-Based vs Inspiring Leadership
What I have found in my decade-long journey studying, coaching, and developing leaders is that you can put managers into three categories:
- Ones that use fear as a constant tactic to get what they want done
- Ones that inspire by transferring truth, confidence, and belief out of love.
- Ones that inspire until it’s tough, then they use fear.
Inspiring others by transferring the truth, confidence, and belief out of love isn’t easy. In fact, it’s usually much more challenging than using fear. This is precisely why most managers choose not to do it.
Fear is short-term, but inspiration is long-term.
If that wasn’t enough, the outcomes of both approaches aren’t guaranteed to change. However, they do sound different. For example;
Using fear as a leader might sound like, “If you don’t do this way and now, you won’t have a job.”
Inspiring by transferring truth, confidence, and belief out of love might sound like, “You know I want you to achieve your goals, and I wouldn’t have you in the position if I didn’t think you could do it. However, if we ever get to a point where it’s evident to you or me that it’s not the right fit, I will help find something better for you.”
The best part is that every leader who has positional authority gets to choose which approach they want to make primary in their leadership style.
I have never been more convinced that fear-based leadership isn’t the correct approach. However, fear is a powerful motivator. So, acting as if it can’t and should never be used would be inaccurate. But I would go to the famous Ralph Nader quote, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” Fear doesn’t create more leaders, it creates unhappy followers.
I will leave you with a powerful coaching question:
Who and what kind of leader do you want to be when it’s hard?
Performance Review Planner: Download the free Performance Review Planner to help you be a more effective manager.
Take the Free Leadership Style Quiz Join over 80k leaders and discover your current leadership style for free.
The Leadership Lens Newsletter Join over 20,000 readers of the Leadership Lens Newsletter for free.
About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.