Archive for the ‘fear-based management’ Category

Fear-Based Management

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Leadership is situational.  Different situations and people require the application of different sets of skills and techniques.  What works for the General will not work for the Politician.  The art of leadership, then, is in the ability to size up a given situation and understand how best to address it.

While some leaders have an innate sense of what to do, most learn through experience.  Unfortunately for first-time supervisors, such experience is in short supply.  Some of you are lucky enough to have been mentored by a respected senior leader or you have worked for someone who taught leadership by example.  But whatever your examples, much of your success or failure will come from your attitudes about the job and the people you lead.

In extreme cases, new supervisors believe that it is only through their efforts that progress is made, that employees can’t be trusted, that goals can only be achieved by driving employees hard, and that discipline is the only way to keep staff in line.  Quite naturally, these attitudes create an environment where employees are fearful.  Such fear-based management is damaging to your service team and, ultimately, to the company.  Consider the case of Michael, an eager first-time supervisor.

Michael was bright, young, ambitious, and a recent graduate of a respected university.  He was hired based upon his enthusiasm, energy, and obvious intelligence.  The company expected great things of him.

Sure enough, there were immediate results.  He analyzed his department’s operation and identified areas for improvement.  He presented his superiors with a detailed action plan and a timeline for accomplishment.  As the months passed, he met each deadline and his department’s numbers were showing a definite positive trend.  Senior management could not have been more pleased.  Michael was quickly establishing himself as a rising star of the company.

However, seven months after Michael started, his assistant manager, Willard, a longstanding and trusted employee, abruptly resigned.  In his exit interview with Human Resources, Willard was bitter in his denunciation of Michael and of the company for hiring him and failing to properly supervise him.

It seems that Michael’s meteoric success had been built upon a hard-nosed, bullying management style.  He frequently flew into tirades if his employees did not perform to his expectations, yet he was a poor communicator, rarely meeting with his staff to explain his goals or desires.  Further, Willard said he often berated his employees in front of others.

According to Willard, departmental morale had never been lower.  When Willard tried to talk to Michael about mounting staff resentment, Michael threatened him, saying that Willard was conspiring to undermine his authority.  The last straw occurred when Michael complained to line employees about his assistant’s performance.

Unfortunately, Willard could not be dissuaded from retiring, but in the ensuing investigation his allegations were borne out.  In reviewing departmental records, investigators found a higher incidence of absenteeism, much departmental rework masked by unauthorized overtime, and a deep and pervasive anger on the part of the staff.

As a result of the investigation, Michael was reassigned to another division.  His boss was disciplined for lax supervision, and the company worked hard to regain the trust of its employees.  While the situation eventually returned to normal, the affair disrupted the smooth operation of the company for over two years.

Fear-based management is rooted in the insecurities of the supervisor.  While everyone has insecurities, in this instance, the immature, inexperienced, and untrusting attitude of the supervisor dominates the workplace.  Some symptoms of fear-based management are:

  • Employees covering their backsides.
  • Unwillingness to take a risk.
  • Lack of initiative and acceptance of the status quo.
  • Employees afraid to express opinions or answer questions.
  • Lack of trust.
  • Defensiveness and blame placing.
  • Lack of communication or only top-down communication.
  • Poor motivation and morale.
  • Lack of cheerfulness, friendliness, and smiles.

Fear-based management impedes organizational teamwork and effectiveness but can be overcome by a leader with an open, trusting attitude and a willingness to grow as a person and a leader.  Because of its detrimental impact on employees, customers, and the bottom line, fear-based management should not be tolerated in any company.

Excerpted from Leadership on the Line:  A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners, and Emerging Leaders.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

Add to Technorati Favorites