Fear Not

Identify and Eliminate Fear in Your Organization 

By Whit Mitchell

A number of years ago my son tried out for the local high school lacrosse team as a freshman. He had played soccer and hockey and thought lacrosse would be a good fit. He would often come home after practice looking a bit bedraggled and discouraged. I attributed it to the fact he had never played and was a freshman.

Being a fan of all sports, and especially ones my children participated in, I decided to drive him to the first away game. What happened that day will live with me forever.
The team we played was far superior and we were beaten badly. But what I experienced watching my son play was painful. He was put in on the defense and for the entire game the coach was yelling at him from the sidelines. 

He got in the car for the trip home in tears. “Dad, I didn't know what to do. If I went up I was yelled at, if I went back I was yelled at. I couldn’t figure out where to be on the field so I just froze for fear of being yelled at!” He was frozen in fear.

Fear influences us. Every morning my wife turns on the TV and we listen to the presidential candidates tell us how horrible the other candidates are. The clear strategy is to create fear in all of us so we vote for them. Why do we play into this tactic? Because research shows that we vote based on fear not based on the candidate’s aspirations.

Fear is everywhere. As a leader, can you identify it in your organization? What is the “Fear Factor” at your company? Do people feel safe when speaking with you or others on the leadership team? What have you done to ensure openness, honesty, transparency and safety within your culture?

Here are the some common causes of fear in companies:
Lack of communication regarding company direction. People want to know they matter and they want to know how they fit into your plans for the future of the company. If they are left in the dark, or even to their own imaginations, fear can grow.
Poor manager behavior. We hire for skills and fire for behaviors! When leaders behave poorly it creates tension, fear, and lack of engagement. If you find yourself getting angry, yelling, putting others down in public, making off-the-cuff remarks, losing your temper, or shutting down, you will find your employees losing trust and faith in your abilities.
Uneven access to management. When I worked in the athletic department of a local college, a group of us would run everyday at noon. We changed clothes in the locker room, and it happened that the Athletic Director changed at a nearby locker. We would naturally talk about the different teams and occasionally bend his ear about our own needs for our programs. At some point, some of the women’s coaches got wind of this noontime ritual. They approached the AD and asked for equal time to discuss their needs. They feared that the men’s coaches were getting extra time in a setting that was unavailable to them. Could this same kind of situation show up in your organization?

There are many benefits of recognizing and lowering your organization’s Fear Factor. As your people see how you encourage open and honest communication at all levels of the organization, they will take more chances sharing information up, down and across the organization. If the flow of quality information increases, you will see a change in relationships with your customers, your investors, your employees, and even your bottom line.

If people at all levels of the company feel safe with you and other managers, you will see them:

  • Sharing new ideas about projects, people or systems.
  • Challenging you on your ideas knowing there won’t be any retribution.
  • Leaving meetings feeling valued because they shared their viewpoints and you acknowledged their contributions. 
  • Giving you feedback on how your behaviors impact the organization 

Just think what could happen to your bottom line and people’s engagement if the work environment was void of the Fear Factor!