Home Lead 1 Simple Habit That Separates Winning Leaders From Wannabe Leaders

1 Simple Habit That Separates Winning Leaders From Wannabe Leaders

Some subscribe to the notion that fear is a motivator. We are now finding that it's actually the ultimate demotivator.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
images header


The Gallup Organization has been playing an old, familiar tune for well over three decades. You know it well--roughly 30 percent of employees in the U.S. are actually engaged in their work. On that scratchy old record is a line from this familiar chorus: People leave managers, not companies.

We've known this for a while, and yet we can't seem to solve the engagement crisis. This is because most people in positions of power don't have a clear understanding of what it truly takes to influence others. Here's a clue: You don't manage people; you lead people and manage the work.

One hard truth about leadership

If you find yourself in the precarious position of wondering where you stand as a leader, at some point, you must face some hard truths about what it takes to be a winning leader -- one who motivates and inspires others on a human, emotional, and psychological level. 

One of those hard truths can turn into a simple habit to elevate your leadership game: Eliminate fear from the workplace.

In traditional top-down power structures, bosses use positional power and control to "drive" people to results. Fear is par for the course as the primary motivator. In today's social economy, servant leaders create psychological safety by pumping fear from the atmosphere to liberate their people to collaborate, innovate, and engage freely to do their best work.

Companies rated as "best places to work" have cracked the code on removing fear and becoming workplaces where people feel a sense of citizenship and see themselves as stewards of the culture and the company.

Assessing fear at work

To qualify your company, department, or team as fear-based, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How important is politicking at your company or organization?
  • Who gets ahead and why?
  • Do managers and senior leaders welcome opinions different from their own?
  • Do people feel safe to take risks?
  • What was the last great idea the company pursued that didn't come from an executive?

If any of these questions provoked your thinking, know that fear does not discriminate. It runs throughout every level, from the staff trenches to the C-suite.

What every employee wants

Fear is detrimental to achieving a company's full potential. We just can't be engaged or innovative when we are afraid. Some subscribe to the notion that "fear is a motivator," but what fear does is kill trust -- the ultimate demotivator.

Not surprisingly, trustworthy leaders who have their employees' best interests in mind are known to improve employee performance and boost team morale. Because employees feel safe, not fearful. 

Research on psychological safety by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School indicates that leaders who foster a "culture of safety" -- where employees can speak up, experiment, give feedback, or ask for help -- provide better performance outcomes.

Think about what it would take to shift from managing from a mindset of fear and intimidation to a mindset of freedom and possibility. To expand your thinking further, ask yourself two powerful questions, as you reimage a workplace free of fear:

  • What would your employees or team members do differently if they weren't afraid? 
  • How would they feel without the fear?

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

Last update:
Publish date: