Recently I received a Facebook post that 2 horses were lost in  Big South Fork National Park after being spooked and breaking loose from their riders. Now, if you know anything about horses, you know they are prey animals and when spooked they run without thinking – their only objective is self-preservation and safety.

Employees are no different. When subjected to an environment of fear they become spooked and seek only self-preservation and safety. Here are 5 reasons you should avoid driving fear into your organization:

  1. People get “lost” and react without thinking – employees working in and environment of fear don’t make decisions in the best interest of the organization – they make decisions based on how they are perceived by their managers – i.e. self-preservation.
  2. You develop a bunch of “Yes” people – Employees working in fear won’t bring up controversial subjects so you never know what’s really going on in the organization. Without contrary information, you can’t make the best business decisions –  putting the organization at risk.
  3. Productivity dives – employees working in fear have little to no enthusiasm – so they only work enough to get by – not to potential.
  4. Lose innovation and creativity – As a result of 2 above, employees won’t go out on a limb with new ideas for fear of retribution. In other words, you lose a competitive advantage.
  5. Trust dies – a leader without trust is like sailing upwind. You can run an organization without trust but it’s a constant struggle and takes innumerable amounts of energy that could be better focused on growing your business.

So, what creates an organization of fear? Here are some management practices that drive fear and kill engagement:

  1. Managers reward activity over impact. In other words employees who “look” busy are rewarded over those who get results. You know the employee who arrives early and stays late, but never actually gets anything accomplished…
  2. It’s all about the Numbers – Every organization needs sensible performance objectives to help people focus on what’s important. But an obsession with metrics, measuring things daily, weekly, hourly etc., without regard to the people issues will make employee feel they are only a sum of their numeric contributions rather than value producers.
  3. There are rules and rules and rules – if your organization is overly dependent on rules for every situation and decision without applying common sense and discretion, you’re driving fear – and rebellion when a situation arises that isn’t covered by the rules.
  4. Hoarding is rewarded – employees often feel hoarding job knowledge is the only way to attain job security and that belief is reinforced – rather reward open, honest sharing of all relevant job information.
  5. Decisions are made in secret – in the absence of good information – employees will make it up and those who stir the pot will be working overtime. Make sure you provide open, honest, timely communications on the good, the bad and the ugly.

As of this writing the horses are still missing and may never be found alive. Don’t subject your organization to the slow death of fear. Your culture and employees are your only true competitive advantage – so make the effort to leverage it.

* Leadership Horse-ism – Using good ‘ole horse sense to become an extraordinary leader!