As more layers to the onion that is the Los Angeles Lakers organization are peeled back, there are even more reasons to tear up (out of sadness, and not a joyful sadness).  

Recently, Magic Johnson quit the organization as President in April, citing backstabbing and a myriad other corrosive behaviors, among other recent team dysfunctions. 

Now's Baxter Holmes has written a damning report based on anonymous interviews with nearly two dozen current/former Lakers team staffers, ranging from top executives to office cubicle workers, in addition to league sources and others close to the team.

At the center of the latest round of reported dysfunction came something surprising. It involves this quote about Magic Johnson from an ex-athletic training official for the Lakers: "He comes off to the fan base with the big love and the smile. But he's not -- he's a fear monger."

Whoa. I'll admit, I didn't see that coming. I've written about Johnson's part in the Lakers dysfunction as that of a victim. But now I'm not so sure.

The stories poured into ESPN's Holmes, I can only imagine through quivering voices. Multiple staffers recalled an incident where Johnson pointed to a stack of resumes, saying he had "a thousand of them", threatening that he could replace the staffers at any time. 

Another Lakers staffer told ESPN of Johnson, "If you questioned him on anything, his response was always a threatening tone. He used intimidation and bullying as a way of showing authority."

Still other stories told of Johnson berating and screaming at employees, to the point it caused health problems for some. Tirades were even directed at head coach Luke Walton. Most disturbing were reports of Johnson's duality. His Jekyl and Hyde nature had employees questioning who they'd see from day to day. Would it be warm, 1,000 megawatt smile Magic Johnson or the manipulative, impulsive, fear based Earvin Johnson?

To be fair, Johnson, in a sit down last night with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, denied ever being abusive towards employees.

And a Lakers spokesperson told Holmes, "Johnson wasn't reprimanded for unprofessional workplace behavior. No official complaints were filed. The NBA also has not received complaints about Johnson through its confidential hotline or through any other means."

If this is really how Johnson leads, his approach will never, ever work.

Look, I'll admit I don't want this to be true of Magic. I like the warm and fuzzy image I had. But it's hard to look past the reports now coming out. If it's true, if this is Magic as an executive, it's a lesson in the worst possible approach to leadership.

Using fear as a leadership tool only leads to a lack of trust, a decline in productivity and morale, and a crushed culture. Fear creates inaction from employees, even paralysis. It dissuades risk taking, discovery and growth. It distorts reality and engages the brain in the wrong conversation, one filled with self-doubt, insecurity, anxiety, and worse, as the Lakers staff stories show.

Fear doesn't get people to do what you want. It gets them to do what they feel they must do to survive, which is never, ever in the best interest of the organization or the individual. Leaders who use fear-based tactics are likely insecure themselves, and assuredly insensitive and non-empathetic.

Fear flows downhill, causing employees to focus on fending for themselves versus putting their energy into collaboration and teamwork. Some will pick up on the leaders fear based actions and emulate them, thinking it's "how things are done around here."

Fear stops people from speaking up, pushing back, and offering the kind of input, feedback, and ideas that make organizations stronger. Fear based leaders tend to divide an organization as they consider people either a friend or a foe. Fall in line, and maybe you'll be in the friend zone.

Fear can only ever "work" for the briefest of durations, and even then it "works" because wills have been bent. The human spirit won't tolerate it for long.

The alternative is so blindingly simple.


It boils down to that. If you lead with fear, you don't respect your organization. No one wants to be lead by fear. Every leader knows that, yet the ones that continue to lead in this way can only be viewed as not giving a damn about anyone but themselves. Do whatever it takes to deliver what I want in the way I want, organization be damned.

That doesn't work for me. It won't work for you, nor for the Lakers. 

I can only end by saying this: fear has no place in leadership. Ever.