Mistakes team leaders make: Culture of fear

February 8, 2015 liane
Mistakes team leaders make: Culture of fear

I was having lunch with a friend this week and talking about raising kids.  My friend said something that really stuck with me.  She said she could already see the fears and anxieties she had passed on to her kids: evidence of her own insecurities reflected in them.  She was now in the midst of doing a variety of things to conquer her own fears, not just for herself, but to serve as a role model to her kids. I was impressed by her self-awareness and inspired by her courage to change.

Although that was a very personal conversation focused on family rather than work, it was a perfect link to the short series I’ve been writing here on ChangeYourTeam.  If you’ve seen the previous couple of posts, you know that conversations I overhead during a keynote speech and workshop a couple of weeks ago inspired me to write about the common mistakes that team leaders make.  My friend reminded me of the most serious mistake that team leaders make: contributing to a culture of fear.

Just as my friend could see her anxieties surfacing in her children, when you lack confidence, feel uncertain, or harbor fear, you risk passing that on to your direct reports.

That’s exactly what I overheard at the workshop.  I heard a group of team leaders debating about whether they actually had any control over the engagement levels of their team members. The conversation had turned to an example of a sales person who wanted to sign a deal with a price that was $2 beyond his approval threshold.

The deal was competitive and there wasn’t enough time to go up the chain to get proper approvals.  The manager decided to pass on the deal because he thought he’d get into trouble. They lost the business.

I walked over to share what I had heard with the members of the executive team. They were surprised and more than a little disappointed.  “We have people who are more afraid of doing something than of doing nothing and that’s all backward!”

Sadly, throngs of managers perpetuate the same message: don’t do something that might get you (and therefore me) into trouble.

As a team leader, it is critical that you manage your own anxiety around taking risks.  And even before that, you need to be really aware of what you consider to be a risk and whether or not your tolerance levels are reasonable. Finds ways to have this conversation with your manager, and in opportunities like the leader townhall I was speaking at, raise these issues in an open forum so you can hear your leaders’ perspective.

What are you afraid of that’s holding your team back?

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