As anyone who loved the television series Fear Factor or enjoys a roller-coaster ride already knows, being afraid can be entertaining and enjoyable. Thrilling, even, as long as you mitigate the risks. The likelihood of being flung out into space on a roller-coaster is next to nil.
But when leaders foster fear and intimidate their folks in order to exert control or stimulate performance, it's anything but enjoyable. And it's certainly not motivating.
I'll admit that a little bit of intimidation can be a motivator. But do you really want people to follow you because they're scared not to? Of course not. Even if it might goose people's productivity in the short term, it's not a good long-term strategy.
And it's dangerous for your career.
Here are four different flavors of fear that can damage your effectiveness and some ideas on how to avoid them. I'll start with the most innocuous form, and move up to the really dangerous ones:
1. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
The popular Twitter hashtag is a real thing in the workplace. You can become dangerously irrational and jealous of others if you think things are happening that you're missing out on. It leads to unnecessary stress and rivalry over who gets invited to what meeting, who might be in favor with the big boss, and so on.
FOMO takes up time and headspace, which means other tasks aren't getting the focus and attention they deserve. You need to model and encourage joy in other people's successes, and value focusing on what's right in front of you. Don't feed the personal beast of score keeping and rivalry, and don't let your employees waste their time on it, either.
2. Fear of Getting in Trouble
Worrying about negative consequences may keep people out of trouble, but what has stopped more innovation in the history of the world than cowardice? Instead, encourage people you are mentoring or leading to make rational, well-considered, but brave choices that lead to change and improvement.
You can do that by rewarding that bravery, of course. You can also help brainstorm ways to accomplish that wildly ambitious goal in smaller, doable steps that can be easily managed. That way, the "trouble" people tend to fear doesn't even come up.
3. Fear of the Unknown
You want a staff with light bulbs over their heads and "How about this?" on their lips, not a bunch of pencil pushers (do they make pencils anymore?) trying to keep their heads down.
The solution: Compliment and reward anybody with an idea. You may or may not want to pursue that specific idea, but you definitely want them to keep the ideas coming. The next one could be a "wow," and you don't want it to get buried under fear before it has a chance.
4. Fear of Failure
What's the worst that could happen if you don't reach your goal? Chances are it's something less than a complete nightmare. See how to re-frame people's trepidation about failing, and get everybody to start seeing tremors--not from fear, but from excitement about trying something different.
Facebook's old motto was "move fast and break things." A better, modified version of that could be: Keep moving, and be prepared to see the earth move when you do!