Leading by fearThe cry was heard around the world. No-o-o! How could Daenerys Targaryen tumble from being an aspiring leader who wanted to make the world a better place  to destroyer of innocents and sufferer of Pyromania. Was it as simple as she didn’t get what she wanted by playing nice and turned to leading by fear?

Ultimately, It didn’t get her anywhere. The decision ended up killing her and dissolving her rein. And, when you look at all the characters in this epic HBO series who lead by fear, it didn’t work for them either.

Take the countless tyrannical leaders that took leading by fear as their go-to leadership style. The Night King, Cersei Lannister taking over the throne while casually holding a glass of wine for eight seasons, the poisoned Geofry Lannister,  the terrifying Ramsay Bolton who lived for the suffering of everyone around him and reckless Euron Greyjoy, who just wanted to be on what he thought was the winning side. Lesson learned, leading by fear has fatal consequences.

In fact, the list goes on and on. Fear doesn’t stop at the leader. Those around them adopt those practices as well. Think of the Unsullied, the northerners and the Dothraki. They believed in peace and fought for it. However, before Missandei’s death (Daenerys’s friend and counselor to the throne who was killed by the Mountain on orders from Cersei Lannister), she uttered the words “Dracarays,” meaning dragonfire in High Valyrian.

This woman in particular was freed from slavery and poverty in her country. Did she really want an entire city of innocents killed in her name, for the sake of her leader?

What happens when a leader turns for the worst to leading by fear?

Sure, everyone expected Daenerys Targaryen to reclaim the Iron Throne she had supposedly every right to occupy. Unfortunately, things changed quickly, which is not uncommon even in the real world of work.  The take-away is that when change happens, how leaders deal with it constructively and get everyone on the same page is critical to not torching your bottom line and losing the support of your most talented and beloved employees.

In the case of Daenerys, perhaps she was mad about her claim to the throne not being valid. Maybe it was pure hate for Cersei Lannister for going back on her word and killing her friend. Perhaps “firing” people who would not bend a knee to her or whose world views were different scorched a path to temporary success. Either way, having a manipulative leader or a leader that’s too strict eventually causes a lot of organizational problems.

Fantasy aside, leading by fear results in toxicity that produces outcomes that multiply through employees who are willing to compete at any cost for power.  Without good counsel, genuine feedback from employees and group norms that guide the moral behavior of your organization, poor decisions result.

Leading by fear produces a depressed and angry organization that is highly unproductive and costly to maintain. If you’re an employee and you’re always thinking that you’re about to face the fire for opening your mouth to share a genuine insight, what are the chances you will ever actually speak? This means no constructive problem solving occurs that sustains your organization for the long run.  

How is leading with respect different than leading by fear?

When IBM completed a WorkTrends survey of over 19,000 workers in 26 countries, they found that those employees who are treated fairly and with regard for their feelings, wishes, rights, and traditions work in ways to benefit their organizations. For example, those employees who are consistently given constructive  feedback and positive recognition are more likely to be more open with their leader. This means that leaders in their organizations operate from a framework of reality.This is because employees are also engaged in their goals and the success of the organization. When confronted with an obstacle, open and respectfully sincere, frank and forthright employees are able to communicate that obstacle for quicker and more immediate resolution. This equates to higher productivity and improved problem solving.

On the other hand, if you don’t pay attention to your coworkers, especially as a leader, don’t expect them to give 100 percent on the job. There’s just no point for them. In their view, why hassle with a job that you’re not even into in the first place? There’s other options to pursue.

In fact, you’ll lose more workers than gain them with that approach. Leading by fear leaves many employees walking on eggshells and your more talented employees who have options leave.

So how does a CEO  who recognizes that that fear tactics such as downsize by surprise pink slip and a turn and burn revolving door of employees quitting and rehiring needs to change? Where does this leader start given that it is anticipated that average life span of Fortune 500 companies is under 20 years compared to 60 years in the 1950’s? How does a leader who also understands why 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will be extinct in 10 years begin the change process?

It starts with assessing the emotional and behavior capacity of the organization. Change without understanding the current emotional state usually takes longer and costs more to transform. Some can’t make the leap at all.

For example, an organization’s capacity to change is based on the quality of trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk resolution and success in organizational work culture behavior. No organization can build up from the scorched earth of leadership by fear without considering capacity. For example, pre-work is required before building up from:

  • The ashes of destroyed trust;
  • Internal competition that has lead to leadership by fear;
  • Dishonesty, lies, silence and deception;
  •  Harsh consequences on innocents;
  • Plunging ahead with tactics without impulse control; and,
  • Total disregard for employee satisfaction.

How the TIGERS 6 Principles™ can start your transformation from leading by fear. 

Assessing the quality of trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk resolution and success is the first step in understanding the direction change leaders take. When developing a change management plan, knowing what to include in the communication plan and for identifying key profit indicators (KPI’s) during the change process, capacity is important to know.

As mentioned earlier in this conversation, if problems aren’t solved correctly or efficiently due to employees keeping quiet, bigger problems occur. These problems frequently result in goal and relationship conflict that drive good employees out the door.

Leading by fear means employees will not be truthful, won’t listen to you on a consistent basis and are going to be constantly fearful about losing their job.  When that happens, expect productivity warning signs and terminations to ultimately occur. Any business leader benefits from  protecting their business by avoiding:

  • The ashes of destroyed trust;
  • Internal competition that has lead to leadership by fear;
  • Dishonesty, lies, silence and deception;
  • Harsh consequences on the innocents;
  • Plunging ahead with tactics without impulse control; and,
  • Total disregard for employee satisfaction.

Therefore, without proper emotional capacity benchmarks that lay the foundation of how to change and what to reinforce with training and interventions during the change process,  too many leaders result to guessing which can result in off target solutions. They don’t know which leaders to support with performance coaching, which leaders to fire if they resist coaching, what messages to send everyone during the change process, what small examples of  success to reinforce and how to get employees imagining what work life will be like on the other side of the gap.

One benefit of the TIGERS Workforce Behavioral Profile™ for assessing capacity for change is that the profile provides three assessment iterations for the same group. This means capacity and direction are assessed that keep your interventions on track during the three to five year process that work culture transformation usually takes.

Leading by fear review

In review, leadership by fear is a sure way to turn a thriving business into ashes. Focusing on behavior that builds strong organizations and behavior that causes predictable problems is the first step in transforming an organization from fear to respect. Capacity for change is key before launching into a change process that corrects leadership by fear.

Yes, CEOs should continue to ask themselves: what can I to make the company better? Then when met with circumstances that don’t go their way, refuse the impulse to lead by fear.

Care to dig deeper into this conversation of leading by fear?

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Copyright 2019 TIGERS Success Series, Inc.

About TIGERS Success Series, Inc.

TIGERS® Success Series provides a comprehensive, multi-pronged and robust system for improving both your work environment and profitability.

We specialize in training your managers in group facilitation methods that build workforce cooperation and high performance team dynamics. Scaled to grow as your organization and leadership performance grows, our proprietary Team Behavior ProfileManagement training workshops, and coach/consultant licensing are based on the six principles we have found to be the right mix to make this happen.

Collaborative Work Culture Consulting, Board Retreat Facilitation, Work Behavior Assessment and Micro-training Services located in Bend, Oregon. 541-385-7465