I’ve always believed that fear based leadership is detrimental to an organization’s overall health. It’s toxic to employees, customers, and business growth.
I listen to podcasts every morning when I walk. Today, I heard a story from the Crooked Conversations podcast with Ben Rhodes (former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications for President Obama) and Jon Favreau (former Director of Speechwriting for President Obama).
The story is about a speech written during Obama’s Presidential campaign. He was traveling to Berlin, Germany and it promised to be a very important foreign policy speech. Jon and Ben were writing the speech and Obama had conveyed that he wanted to get the message across that America is much more than our military power.
The campaign was about a sense of collective effort and community, and they wanted to illustrate that message with the right words in Obama’s speech. Included was what they believed to be the German word for community, thinking that would be a nice touch and maybe even a grand gesture. They did their homework on the word (Google the heck out of it) before presenting the speech and even ran the word past their German language experts. The word got the thumbs up from all parties.
Three hours before Obama was to deliver the speech to hundreds of thousands of people, Jon and Ben serendipitously learned that the word had been used as a theme in one of Hitler’s first speeches at the Reichstag. That’s right – a term used by Nazi’s had nearly made it into Obama’s foreign policy speech on the world stage.
A true test of a leader
Ben quickly let Obama know about the needed change and Obama was keenly aware of how close he came to making the grave mistake, especially since he was an American presidential candidate at the time. To their surprise, Obama’s reaction was calm laughter. He said to his aid, who was standing in the room, “Ok, we’ve got the new employee of the month here.”
Business is a high stakes game.
It’s a high wire endeavor without a net. In this case, the potential consequences can’t be overstated had the word been used. But a true leader knows that yelling and blaming only exacerbates the situation.
Instead, if the boss keeps his or her cool, it allows the players to be empowered to take risks. It enlists employees as partners. When you can laugh as a group at tense moments, the lesson from the mistake is embedded positively.
Knowing that the boss isn’t going to yell takes the edge off. Being kind, patient and willing to let employees make mistakes allows them to be creative, bold and different.
In the fear based leadership approach – the reaction is often yelling and blaming – it closes off what we can be imagined. It creates a culture of being scared all the time. When employees work scared, the business cannot deliver a good product.
Fact: No one likes to feel bad.
We’ve all made mistakes at work. Have you ever been subjected to fear based leadership? I’ve worked for the “yellers” that are driven by their ego and their fear. I’ve worked for men that no matter what you did, it was never good enough. I never wanted to emulate that once I became a boss because it made me feel bad and I didn’t want those that I was leading to feel bad.
Young or old, experienced or inexperienced, knowing that a boss’ reaction is to support rather tear down does wonders for productivity. It builds a culture of trust, something that’s missing in many businesses today.
Fear-based leadership is not leadership. It’s a mad king holding his court hostage. It puts constraints on business growth, never allowing the organization to realize its full potential.