Are You Leading Through Fear or Freedom?

— June 20, 2019

I have always believed that true leadership inspires people to be the best versions of themselves. It encourages people to manifest the full expression of their creativity, intellect, and competence.

In other words, a true leader fosters an environment of freedom; and in this freedom, people follow their leader out of fervor, rather than fear.

Oh yes – fear in the workplace is more common that you might expect. Fear-based leadership causes the employees’ focus to turn inward rather than outward. Team members led by fear stay concerned with keeping their jobs and not upsetting their manager – they no longer focus on the company’s goals, the quality of the product or service, or the customer experience.

Fear may seem undetectable on the surface, yet it slowly but surely erodes the work environment from within.

Are you leading through fear?

You may have just taken on a new leadership role of a team or department, or you may have already made it to the top. Either way, you’re still searching for how to become an even better and more effective leader.

To determine whether your leadership style invokes more fear than fervor, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When your employees speak with you, do they seem rigid and hesitant rather than comfortable and frank?
  • Do you detect an overall sense of low energy, disengagement and poor performance in your workplace?
  • Do you wish your employees would be more honest and authentic at work?
  • Do your employees keep turning to you rather than figuring out how to solve their own problems?

If your answer to most of these questions was “yes”, it’s time to take a closer look at your leadership style. It’s possible that your employees are being led more so by fear than by freedom and fervor.

Why Some Leaders Choose Fear

Sometimes, leading with fear seems like an effective short-term solution – it causes immediate action, and guarantees temporary accountability. However, what it really does is create a heightened sense of anxiety and false urgency in people. This may result in a lot of activity, but if you look closely, there will not be much productivity.

In fact, managers often resort to leading with fear when they have reached a point of desperation. Think of it as “the dark-side” method of leadership. Over time, if a leader continues to lead with fear, then anxiety, distrust, pessimism and intimidation begin to plague the organization. On the other hand, it becomes that much more difficult for employees to act honestly and transparently, thereby damaging necessary forms of communication.

If employees are too afraid to bring up any issue to their leader, this means there is an evident dysfunction within the company. With such a limitation put on rational discussion, the leader who leads with fear ultimately ends up with outcomes like poor decision making, lack of innovation, and low productivity.

Picture this: your employees only look out for their jobs, rather than the outcome of the company. They are too afraid to rock the boat to innovate or create. They are too busy taking steps to ensure they don’t step on any toes to figure out how to solve problems and work effectively.

This is the picture of a crew whose leader inspires fear rather than fervor. This is not the picture of a vibrant, innovative organization. In fact, the ability to create, change or innovate – which is crucial for any growing business in this competitive market – is killed by fear.

Choose to Inspire Freedom

Over the years, I have noted that individuals who choose not to lead with fear and control, undergo a remarkable change of their own first.

These individuals unlock their fullest potential, power and purpose in order to lead others. Their leadership style is based on respect, trust, and communication.

The freedom that such leaders offer inspires real ownership and engagement on the part of the team. Rather than waiting for you to tell them what to do, they proactively take charge of their responsibilities because they value the trust and confidence you have placed in them.

When led by fervor, employees let down their guard. They are unafraid to discuss ideas with you, and they will readily admit their mistakes. They will see their blunders as learning opportunities and will be eager to devise solutions and take preventative measures for the future. A spirit of honesty and transparency is therefore naturally established in the workplace.

Picture this: your employees are as passionate about the goals of the organization as you are. They enthusiastically come up with innovative and creative ideas and solutions on the daily. They don’t rely on you to tell them exactly what to do or help them solve their problems; they go for it themselves. You never have to wonder how your employees feel towards you or whether they are keeping something from you: they speak with you respectfully and candidly on both a professional and personal front.

This is the picture of a crew whose leader inspires fervor instead of fear. This is the leadership style of the 21st century, where leaders acknowledge that they are required to manage and lead the whole person, not just a worker who shows up to do a job.

This leadership change can have enormously positive results in your organization. And it’s a change that you can begin implementing more of, right away.

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Author: Paul Keijzer

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