Just Add Fear – Is this a line in your Leadership Recipe?

Do you ever intentionally try and scare your people?  Is it a tool you use in your leadership toolbox?

Let me rephrase that:

  • Have you ever initiated changes without an adequate explanation  to anyone why the change is important?
  • Do you go long periods of time without bringing the team together to celebrate wins of the past and talk about what the focus is for the future?
  • Does your travel schedule dictate how often you bring your team together?
  • Do customer needs always trump team communication/gatherings?
  • Do you allow months to pass without giving people feedback on their work and asking what support they need?
  • Do you let people hole up in their cubicles and just work for hours/days on end?
  • Do you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, births, and show up at funerals for your people and their families?

The hands on work of leaders, the habits we commit to say everything about our leadership.  Fear is like water, it always finds it’s way into where it should not be and the damage starts without us knowing about it.  Any builder will tell you that creating a 100% waterproof house is impossible, but building well and adequately venting things will help us avoid major damage.  My experience tells me in any new building you wait for the first heavy rain and watch closely for those things that are not built well.  Leaks will show up.  They are always there. Some tips – Don’t start with the question – What is everyone afraid of today?  Here are some questions that will help you watch for/listen for fear:

  • What questions are hanging out there that need answers?
  • What should be our top 3 priorities for the next 6 months?
  • Where are you making progress?  Where are you stuck?  What support do you need to get unstuck?

Listen for confusion or emotions that will distract from our ability to solve problems and work together.  Those are the slow leaks of fear filling up the space in our heads that we need to use for thinking and reasoning to do our best work. Great conversations start with a question.  When it works, we have honest conversations, leading to thoughtful actions, and improved performance.  Fear is always looking to creep in and it will, just develop the habits that does not allow it to stay for long. When we do it well, we allow fear a voice, and we create conditions that don’t allow it to stay long.

To build great culture you have to give fear a voice, and also not give it a place to stay.