The Product of Fear

Gerwig 2016-07-29

Do you have a safe zone? A place to which you can escape and relax, and think, and recover, and regroup, and calm down? I do. I’m human after all. I have emotions. I get emotional. There are times I’m upset, times I’m frustrated, times I’m angry, times I’m confused, times I’m disappointed and times I’m shocked. Of course there are also times (many more by the way) that I’m happy, elated, joyous, energized, jubilant, and pleased. But I don’t generally go to my safe zone during those times, occasionally but not often. I go to my safe zone to avoid saying or doing something I might regret. Something I can’t take back. Something that might embarrass me. So I go to my safe zone and breathe. And pray. And meditate. And reflect. And breathe.

Though I can go into a “mental” safe zone regardless of my physical location, I also have a couple physical safe zones. One of them has a variety of pictures. Pictures of family and landscapes. Well, mostly family. I look at the pictures. I remember fond times. I pray. Things become more clear. I breathe more freely. I put things into perspective, into context. And I relax, regroup and go back into the battle, back into the mess, back to war.

Can you relate to any of this? Do you have a spot you can go? A safe zone? I hope so.

On one occasion I was in my safe zone reflecting on fear, organizational fear. Fear that stems from verbally beating people up. Fear that stems from continually being chastised. Fear that stems from being put down or ridiculed or belittled. This brief article is a result of that reflection.

You might have experienced fear within your family, on your sports team or within your school. In fact, it’s difficult to find an organization where fear doesn’t exist at some level, especially large organizations. It’s common. But what isn’t so common is the realization of fear’s limitations. Most people don’t understand the product of fear. Do you? Limited performance. Fewer ideas. Loss of good people. Physical ailments. Strained relationships. Inconsistent results. And on and on. Fear limits.

How can you recognize an environment or culture that is dominated by fear? People don’t take chances. They stop asking questions. They avoid eye contact. Their performance drops or remains stagnant. They secretly “huddle” after the meeting (the infamous “meeting after the meeting”). They demonstrate dysfunctional behavior when the boss is away (the “mice will play while the cat’s away”). They don’t volunteer. They do “just enough.” They’re absent more often. They’re sick more frequently.

Great leaders understand these negative products of fear. Great leaders understand people. They understand how to motivate. They understand how to build, to develop, grow, nurture and deliver. Great leaders understand that there are daily choices. And that the better choice is empowerment of individuals and teams. They understand that fear leads to a “have to” environment while empowerment leads to a “want to” environment. They understand that “want to” always outperforms “have to” in the long run. They understand that fear is a strong motivator but that love is the strongest motivator. People will do “enough” to stay out of trouble in an environment where fear dominates. But they’ll go to the “ends of the earth” in an environment of love (empowerment).

Across many states, corporations, industries and countries I’ve been asked to improve organizational performance. It’s what I do. I’ve led complete turnarounds, taking failing organizations and helping them become successful. And I’ve led significant but less dramatic improvements, helping good organizations become great.

Some people can bake really well, some can sing. Me? I elevate individual and organizational performance. I grow talent. I make others better. How? I enable. I empower. I love. I give others credit. I celebrate the success of others. I help my team. I believe in my team. I invest in my team. I highlight the accomplishments of my team. I talk with them. I encourage them. I trust them. I empower them. Whether the team is my work team, my family, my neighbors, or a group at church, they know I’m there for them. They know I’m their biggest cheerleader. They know I’ll make sacrifices for them. And they know I want the best for them.

You know what surprises a lot of people? They think nice guys can’t finish first. They think empowering others is risky. They manage by fear. They think empowering others is a sign of weakness and indicates a lack of direction. You know what? They’re wrong. They’re like the school-yard bully who “acts” tough but is, underneath the facade, scared and lacking confidence.

What kind of leader are you? What type of environment are you creating? Are you building a culture of empowerment or are you maintaining a culture of fear? Do you think tough-minded, results-oriented executives and parents lead by fear? I hope not. I hope you don’t buy into that approach. Leading by fear is easy and simple, the road wide. Leading with love and empowerment is difficult, the road narrow. But the results, the long-lasting impact, the consistency, the sustainability, the growth, the optimization and the joy of taking the narrow, hard road of love and empowerment make it the best option.

Which road will you take, fear or empowerment?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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