Mistakes in Motivation

August 22, 2016

How many times a week do you hear, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” This is usually followed by an idea or two to try to entice people to be more productive.

Seeking to motivate employees is a thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way rarely get the increased motivation they seek.

Reason: Motivation is an intrinsic phenomenon rather than something to be impressed upon people. Motivation is not something managers “do to” the workers.

The only person who can motivate you is you. The role of leaders is not to motivate workers, rather it is to create the kind of culture and environment where workers are inspired and choose to motivate themselves.

An example is when a leader sets a vision and goals, then allows people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

Why do many leaders try to motivate people by using either incentives (like bonuses) or threats (like penalties)?

1. Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace we somehow make people more motivated is flawed.

Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the underlying reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. The most direct way to improve the culture is to build trust.

By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

3. Using the wrong approach

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation; it is fear.

You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation; it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks

Individuals are willing to accept any kind of treat the boss is willing to dish up, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the carrot.

A better approach to create motivation is to work on the culture to build trust first. Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment for motivation to grow within people.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation?

A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.”

If we seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, we are going to be disappointed frequently.

Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team the ability to choose their own methods to achieve the goal.”

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create. If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world.

The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully motivated is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings.

It is not generated by giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving. Describe motivation as a new way of life rather than a program or event. You should see evidence of motivation based on trust in every nook and cranny of the organization.

Focus on improving the culture rather than using carrots or sticks to create true motivation.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Trust and Fear

December 5, 2015

Fear and trust are normally incompatible. If you were a bank teller and a robber was pointing a revolver at your head, you would find it impossible to trust him.

Likewise in any endeavor of life, from chores at home to important meetings at work, when we are experiencing fear, it is difficult or impossible to trust.

You can find exceptions to this rule, but they are rare. The reason is that to trust someone or something, it means we are willing to be vulnerable. There is a risk that the other person will let us down in some way. Get rid of the fear, and we are freed up to trust once again.

Flying in an airplane is a good example to analyze because we all know that occasionally planes do crash, so there is always some element of risk.

Some people are afraid of heights or of high speed, so they may be afraid to fly because of those feelings. People get on planes when there is fear present because they recognize that statistically they are safer in an airplane at 30,000 feet than at ground level driving their automobile.

The rationale is that if you are afraid to fly you should be much more afraid to drive a car. Statistics show that you are over 100 times more likely to be killed in an automobile than on a plane, per 100 thousand miles traveled.

There is a difference between hope and trust. We hope the plane won’t crash, which means we have an expectation of a positive outcome even though there is anxiety, but if we did not trust the entire system, there would be no way most of us would even get on a plane.

At work, many people experience fear on a regular basis because the workplace is often a place of high stress where specific situations cause people to be less than kind to each other.

A major fear at work is often expressed as an unwillingness to speak out about our feelings because they may come back to haunt us later.

We picture our supervisor as a person who may talk about sharing and being transparent, but we observe that he has a club behind his back that he uses to clobber anyone who expresses a contrary opinion. The boss advocates openness, but models a punishment mentality that perpetuates fear in people.

To experience the benefits of more trust in our lives, we need to examine what is causing our fears and work to eliminate or mitigate them. Only then are we free to take the risk that is implied in any trusting situation.

Often our fears are irrational, so we need to deal with our feelings logically to clarify the true risks from the fictional goblins that haunt the corners of our minds.

Conversely, fear at work is often a very rational emotion based on experience and the observed behaviors of the managers. That kind of toxic environment eliminates the possibility of growing real trust.

You are faced with a choice to endure the hypocrisy or attempt to flee to greener pastures. Those people who continually seek a better environment may find themselves moving to a different job only to find the conditions there are even worse than what they left.

On my website I have several quotations that come from my writings. One of my favorites is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” I believe trust can kindle spontaneously in an environment where fear is low.

Exercise for you: As you go through your day today, experience your level of trust moment by moment as much as you can. Keep track of your feelings carefully.

If you find a pocket of fear, it will likely block your ability to trust. Root out the cause of that fear and see how easy it becomes to trust once again.

Make sure to verify the body language of people because fearful people generally do not advertise that condition consciously.

We can all improve the level of trust in our lives by managing our fears. Of course, eliminating fear is often easier said than done.

If you are afraid of heights, I cannot talk you out of getting clammy on top of the Empire State Building, so managing our fears down is not always possible, but many of our fears at work can be reduced if we work at it.

In an organization, people are often paralyzed with fear because of the power of their boss to impact their standard of living with a simple decision. Here are a few methods that may work to reduce fear depending on the specific situation:

Look at the situation logically – this is the case with getting on an airplane. Sure it may be a bit scary, but we need to understand when the true level of risk is very low. If there is true hypocrisy, then we need to recognize it and protect our own interests.

Verbalize your fear – by going public with what is causing your angst, you solicit the help of others to identify ways to cope with the fear. In some cases a frank dialog with a superior may help clear the air and allow you to be more candid in the future. In other cases, the admission of fear will be rejected by the boss as unnecessary. That is because the supervisor is mostly blind to the problem he is causing.

Accept it but move on – simply resolve to take the necessary risk even though there is fear. Trust in others usually begets more trust to us in return. In this case you take baby steps to test the level of trust as you try to build up more of it.

Triumph over the fear – refuse to give in to the tendency to think negative thoughts. Simply rise above the fear and let the adrenalin rush give you the needed courage. Replace fear with faith.

Obviously, you need to assess the potential that your triumph over fear could lead to unemployment or worse. That is where judgment and maturity are required.

If your organization runs on a steady diet of fear because people are afraid of the consequences of speaking their truth, you are likely to have a toxic, low trust culture.

That is a signal that there is an amazing level of productivity increase available if the leaders can change their behaviors to reduce the fear.

I recall # 8 of Deming’s famous 14 points was “drive out fear.” I believe the famous quality guru was right.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Why Some Bully Managers Last

July 5, 2014

aggressive businessman bullying colleaguesA student in one of my graduate leadership classes posed an interesting question. If bully managers cause so much grief, why are so many of them allowed to remain in power?

The question got me thinking of the many reasons bully managers, even the extreme ones, seem to hang onto their positions. Here are some of the reasons.

1. Weak Leadership Above – If a bully manager is allowed to remain in place, it means the leaders above him or her are not doing a good job. If those in charge look the other way while a manager is abusing people, then they are the real culprits.

It is rather easy to spot a bully manager when doing a 360 degree review process, so once one is identified, if the person is allowed to stay in a management position year after year, I blame the top leadership.

Also, weak leadership might look the other way because the bully has powerful allies. Bully bosses intimidate people at their own level and higher in the organization. They know the buttons to push or people to pressure in order to get their own way. If a weak leader is afraid of the bully, that can be a reason this person is allowed to continue.

If the bully is the top dog and not beholden to anyone, there is no force from above to curtail the negative behaviors. In this case, barring some kind of epiphany, the bully will keep on with the same conduct until he or she leaves.

Attempts from below to enlighten this person will usually be fruitless; they may even exacerbate the problem.

2. Sufficing –

A bully manager does elicit compliance because people are fearful. The unit reporting to this manager will perform at a credible level, even though people are unhappy and underutilized.

The crime is that the unit could be so much better, and the lives of the workers could be richer if the manager was replaced by someone with higher Emotional Intelligence.

Many units get by sufficing on a culture of compliance and avoidance and do not even realize the huge potential they are missing.

3. Being Clueless –

I have written on this before. The idea is that most bullies simply do not see themselves accurately. They would view themselves as being tough or having high standards of conduct.

My observation is that most bully managers are genuinely proud of their prowess at getting people to behave. They have no impetus to change, because their twisted logic reinforces the behaviors that elicit compliance.

They often view themselves as smarter than the people working for them and bark out orders because they sincerely believe they know best.

Another clueless possibility is that the entire corporate culture is stuck in this Ebenezer Scrooge mentality.

Hard as it is to fathom, there are still old style companies where management likes to terrorize. The same holds for family businesses where one generation intimidates the next.

4. Lack of trust –

A bully manager trashes trust on a daily basis without realizing it. When trust is low, all other functions in the organization operate like a car would run on watered-down gasoline.

The irony is that when the bully manager sees things sputtering and not working well, the logical reaction is to jump in with combat boots on to “fix” the problems.

That bullying behavior perpetuates the problem in a vicious cycle of cause and effect. If there is no external force to break the cycle, it will just continue.

5. Short term focus –

Most bully managers have a fixation on short term actions and do not see the long term damage being done to the culture. They would describe “culture” as some squishy concept that is for softies.

If you propose ideas to improve the culture to a bully manager, he or she will start talking about performance and accountability. Holding people accountable is a very popular phrase in management these days.

Imagine a world where there was less need to talk about holding people accountable because the culture they worked in was one that automatically extracted their maximum discretionary effort.

If the vast majority of workers in a unit habitually performed at the very peak of their potential because they wanted to, then accountability would take care of itself.

6. Lack of skills –

Bully managers often have not had good leadership capabilities built in through training and mentoring. You cannot blame a tyrant if he or she has never been shown a better way to lead.

Bully managers are often accused of having a “my way or the highway” attitude toward people, but I would contend that many of these misguided individuals simply feel “my way is the only way I know how to get things done.”

For these leaders, some intensive reprogramming can be an effective antidote only if they come to the table eager to learn new ways.

7. Fear means people will not challenge –

Most workers are not going to be willing to challenge a bully boss. The fear of getting their heads chopped off for leveling with the boss makes the prospect of telling the truth feel like knowingly walking into a lion’s den.

Every once in a while there is a person so foolish or confident that he will just walk into the lion’s den because there is little to lose. This person can help provide shock therapy for bully leaders by providing data on how the behaviors are actually blocking the very things the leader wants to accomplish.

These people might be called “whistle blowers” because they provide an errant manager, or the leadership above, with knowledge of what is actually happening.

Occasionally, a bully manager is so extreme that he or she must be removed and replaced by a more people-oriented manager. Unfortunately, it is also true that many bully bosses have the ability to remain in place for long stretches.

This adhesion to power is extremely costly to the organization in terms of current and future performance along with a prime cause of high turnover. If you have a bully manager reporting to you, get him or her some help through training.

If that does not work, move the bully out of a leadership role and put in someone with high Emotional Intelligence.


Negativity is like a cancer

May 17, 2014

SynapseI believe that negativity is a kind of cancer that occurs in many organizations. It has a growing and debilitating impact on any group where it is allowed to fester.

Stamping out all negativity is a daunting a task, just like trying to stamp out all diseased cells in a human body that has been infected with a cancer.

For the survival of the organism, it is important to try as best we can to get rid of the problems. This article suggests some possible treatments for a negativity disease that has taken root in an organization.

It is important to realize that the cause of negativity may or may not be legitimate. Some people are just negative by nature and will grumble even under ideal conditions, while others become negative only after years of what they perceive as abuse.

For example, if you are a leader and are faced with a number of people who poison the environment with toxic rhetoric daily, you need to consider whether you and your policies have done enough to create an environment of trust.

If you are a leader in a group where there are just one or two individuals that are usually the ones generating negativity, what strategies can you use to turn the situation around?

First, you need to identify the sources of negativity. You must find the tumor. This is a simple task. Usually people know which individuals instigate most of the negative energy in a group.

Often they are “informal leaders” to whom other people listen. Once you have identified the ringleaders of negativity, you need to establish a specific strategy to deal with these people, and, hopefully, turn them around.

There are many options to do this, just as there are many treatments for physical cancer depending on the type of cancer, the stage of the disease, and the physician doing the treatments. Here are a few possible tools to rid an organization of negativity.

Seek assistance through peers. The peers of the troublemaker have the ability to let the person know that the organization would be in better shape if this person could lighten up.

It could be that the peer pressure takes the form of some jovial ribbing about the propensity to be negative. (Note: I will use the female pronoun in the rest of this article, but realize the situation would be the same for both genders.)

Peer pressure might take the form of a group agreeing to make only positive comments for two days and see who breaks ranks first. The idea here is to expose the tumor clearly so treatment is easier and can be more focused.

Adopt the person. As a leader, you are free to “adopt” a troublemaker so you can open an ongoing dialog. Try to understand her psychological makeup to find out what drives her to be negative.

By listening intently to her message and reinforcing her candor rather than always fighting the message, you can gain a better understanding of her point of view, and she will trust you more. Learn her aspirations and dreams. Find out about her family life. Take a real interest.

This process is similar to all the diagnostic tests done on a cancer patient. Also, let her know that you value her ideas simply because she is an informal leader.

Bring her into the management circle as a resource. Seek out ways to involve her ideas in decisions that impact the group.

In some cases, you can turn the person completely around, and you have a super positive person who is also a natural leader. Wow! That changes the culture quickly. I have seen miracles like this happen.

Level with the person – You might take the approach to be logical with her. Take her aside and reflect that you know at least some of the negative energy that gives rise to low morale and rumors is coming from her.

Let her know that she is hurting this organization by doing this. Ask for her help to turn down the negative energy when talking with people. Set an expectation that she can change her mental process to be a better citizen.

Perhaps send her to a course like the Dale Carnegie Course. This strategy will not work with every hardened grumbler, but in some cases the gentle medication approach can cause the cancer to get better without more radical treatment.

This is especially true when the condition is caught early. In this case your own candor may help bridge a trust gap and be a kind of wakeup call this person was needing.

Isolate her by moving her to another area. This is a dangerous ploy, and it would backfire in all but the most extreme cases.

If it is either fire this woman or move her to a different environment, you can try the latter. You would need to couple this approach with a progressive counseling process, so she would be on Final Warning at the time of reassignment.

In the case of dual grumblers, sometimes by separating the individuals, you can divide and conquer, since they lose their synergy by not being allowed to inflame each other.

Often it is safer to just cut out the tumor and be done with it. That is an option, especially if the negativity is starting to spread to many others.

Do some team building – You might be able to impact the negativity by some simple team building techniques. Make sure the group shares a common goal, and work to build trust within the team.

It is hard to maintain negativity in an environment of high trust. Spend time documenting the behaviors that the group intends to follow. This will allow other members to call her on negativity once the group decides this is inappropriate behavior.

There are other ways to chip away at negativity in a work group. Use your imagination, and do not always use the same approach.

What works with one individual might backfire in another case, just as treating any individual with cancer needs to have a unique approach. Be flexible, creative, and persistent, and you will be able to turn around many of the cells of negativity. Do not expect to win them all. You cannot.

Finally, if there are several groups who are negative in your sphere of influence, you need to consider that the real problem might be you. Or it could be another weak link somewhere else in the management chain.

It could be that corporate communications or policies are inhibiting trust. In my leadership consulting experience, the problem of low trust can often be traced to a leader with low Emotional Intelligence. Investigate this possibility thoroughly without being defensive.

If there is too much negativity in your organization, what are you doing to change your own behaviors? People generally become negative when they feel abused over a long period of time. Look at your own policies and practices and figure out if you can reduce negativity easily by changing yourself than by trying to change them.

It is up to the leader to take responsibility for building an environment of trust.


Do Not Over Prepare

December 8, 2012

Stock PhotoSpeaking in front of a large audience can be a terrifying experience. Studies have shown that fear of speaking in public is stronger than the fear of death for many people.

Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to appear perfect? I will offer some insight into the dilemma and share an alternate path that leads to lower stress and better performance. I will use public speaking as an example and then generalize the concept to cover many other areas of our lives.

When we think about why people get nervous in front of a large crowd, it seems pretty obvious. We are afraid we are going to goof up, so we practice our part over and over, attempting to perfect and polish our delivery so we do not look stupid in front of others. The irony is that, after a certain point, the more we attempt to perfect our speech, the more likely we are to actually flounder with our delivery.

I witnessed a professional speaker who was giving a presentation to over 1000 other professional speakers. Talk about pressure! She had practiced her speech so many times she was assured that she would not make a mistake. But when she faced the stage lights, all of her preparation and build up actually made her goof up. Reason: when she got flustered and messed up a word or two, then she forgot her place in the memorized text and stumbled badly.

Finally, in desperation, she pulled out a typed paper with the words. After reading a few lines, she put the paper away and tried to go back to the memorized material. The same thing happened again; she totally blanked out at the first misstep and had to resort to her printed text again. It happened a third time as well. I expect that day will live in her mind as an example of a disastrous day. The audience was uncomfortable as well, although we all supported her and had great empathy for her pain.

Think about the alternative, where she would know her content cold because it came from her heart, not her rote memory. All she needed were a few key points to recall the topic areas, and she could wax eloquent with no miscues. It was her desire to be perfect that led to her being embarrassingly imperfect.

Here is a stark contrast to the speaker described above. At that same speaker’s conference, Brian Tracy, the great author, speaker, and philosopher, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the National Speakers Association. The award is the highest honor a speaker can receive, and Brian proceeded to demonstrate why he was worthy of the award.

He got up to give a 10-minute acceptance speech: one of the most important speeches of his life, out of thousands of speeches. As he started the speech, he had no idea what was about to happen to him. His lavaliere microphone started to die, and the audience could only hear every other word. Horrified, the sound technician rushed on stage with another lavaliere mic, and Brian carried right on as if nothing had happened. Two minutes later the replacement mic also died in the same way. Brian just stood there smiling at the audience until the technician came out with a hand held mic, and Brian was able to finish his speech.

He did not get flustered, or angry, or sad, he just stood there smiling until the situation had cleared. Doing that in front of 1000 professional speakers took real poise. Brian was even gracious to the bumbling technician, who was undoubtedly dying a thousand deaths over the incident. Brian was sincerely grateful for the honor and was not about to let a cantankerous sound system mess up his moment.

My method of rehearsing a program is to mock up the platform and go over a program from my prepared key points a few times, but I make no attempt to memorize any part of the actual wording except for the very first sentence and the very end of the program. Brian Tracy taught me that the first sentence should be memorized verbatim. His reasoning was that “well begun is half done.” After the first sentence rings out, then it is as if I am having a natural conversation with the assembled group like I was talking with a friend over the kitchen table. This method allows me to be more authentic and relaxed. If I make a mistake and stumble, it is not the end of the world at all, I just look for ways to make it humorous.

Seth Godin had a blog entry I read recently about the same concept. He wrote, “Perfecting your talk, refining your essay, and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.” He even implied that some top performers inject some kind of faux imperfection in their routine because it tends to endear them to the audience. Personally, I don’t need to inject imperfections in my programs; they have enough of them naturally. I am okay with an occasional goof, because it makes me more human and credible to my audiences, and that is a very positive thing. Somehow having them join me in laughing at myself is a kind of bonding action with the audience.

The same kind of problem exists for all of us in many different areas of our lives. By trying to be perfect (which we are not) we put immense pressure on ourselves. We get uptight as we try to rehearse every possible situation and then lose our train of thought in the complexity of the moment. For example, the other day I was at a very formal dinner, and I was trying to put on my best manners. In my attempt to be perfect and charming, I was paying more attention to the conversation than to what my hands were doing, and I spilled a full gravy boat of salad dressing all over the table. Oops!

When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, we tend to cause the very thing we are trying to prevent. The antidote is to simply be yourself with all your warts and problems. Relax, so you can roll with the situation naturally, and you will come out ahead most of the time. People are going to forgive you, even though you feel totally embarrassed at the time. The trick is to think about the major issues, but not try to work out the fine detail in advance. Let your natural self take care of the fine grain actions. Know your material but avoid over preparation.

We need to understand that nobody goes through life without making some embarrassing gaffes. What makes the difference is how we react when an unexpected snafu occurs. If we are calm and make light of our foible, the incident will pass, and our long term credibility will be intact with the embarrassing moment nothing more than a humorous footnote: like my spilled salad dressing.

Try this big-picture method of preparing yourself for your next important meeting, speech, or social event. If you prepare and then relax to present naturally, you will usually come out just fine. If you are not good at coming up with a funny line after a mistake, then try taking some improvisation classes. They will help you become more spontaneous with humor. Another organization that has great techniques is Toastmasters. Get involved with your local chapter.


Trust vs Risk

June 24, 2012

This summer, Nik Wallenda walked across Niagara Falls on a cable. Exactly why he did that is lost on me, but that doesn’t matter. He seems to have a pretty high tolerance for risk. For each of us, it is a risky world. We each know one thing for certain: “life is terminal.” Nobody gets out alive.

Thinking about the various types of risk has occupied my mind for several years. For example, since I make my living helping groups understand how to build more trust, the relationship between trust and risk is important to me. Whenever you trust another person, it implies some risk. That is actually one way to define trust: setting aside the fear of being let down by another person. I find it helpful to embrace the occasional betrayal of trust as a trigger point to build even higher trust in the future. That requires some work, but it is well worth it.

Another aspect of risk is the inherent risk of avoiding an action out of fear. The risk is that we are shutting the door on a potential learning experience. We learn at least as much from our failures as we do from our successes, so by tolerating the risk enough to try things that may be scary, we can grow. It is only a matter of degree that we will choose whether to risk something.

For example, I may be walking across a country road and accepting the risk that a car might come along and hit me. That risk is pretty small since there is almost no traffic, and I would hear a car coming long before being struck. By contrast, I may be on foot crossing seven lanes of traffic going 70 mph. That would simply be foolhardy.

The smart thing to do is what our parents taught us. Try to avoid the risks in life, but recognize there is risk in taking (or even in avoiding) any action. We need to learn to take intelligent risks and make sure if things go wrong that we document what was learned by the experience.

Mitigating risk is not all that complex. We just need to identify potential problems and create plans to avoid disaster in the event they occur. Most of us do those things instinctively.

Here are seven tips for dealing with risk in business.

1. Recognize the element of risk in all activities and in trusting others.

2. Think through each potential action from a risk standpoint. What can go wrong?

3. Keep in mind the risk of being too conservative with actions: the risk of doing nothing may be the most costly risk.

4. Prioritize risks by Identifying the most likely scenarios.

5. Identify potential work-around plans for serious consequences.

6. Anticipate when things are starting to go wrong and intervene early.

7. Admit any mistakes, learn from them quickly, then move on.

If we approach risk from the opportunity perspective, we can use it as a growing experience rather than debilitating force in our lives.


Drive Out Fear

April 15, 2012

Several decades ago, the now-deceased quality guru, W. Edwards Deming came up with a list of 14 key points for leaders to take that would accomplish what he called “profound knowledge.” Point number 8 on his list was “drive out fear.” I believe this was one of the most powerful concepts on his famous list. The reason is that the absence of fear is a prerequisite for higher trust, and trust is the most important ingredient to higher organizational productivity. In this article, I will share seven tips to help drive out fear.

Fear is one on the most basic of human instincts. It is fear that allowed humanoids to survive during primitive times, and it is still the basis of survival today. Without fear, you would not take the time to look both ways before crossing the street. Too much constraining fear in the organizational context can produce a gridlock of activities among the people that prevent the establishment of trust. Let’s look at some tips that leaders can use to reduce the fear in the workplace, and thus help to increase trust.

Be more transparent

When people are kept in the dark about what things are happening that can affect them, it is only natural to become afraid. When leaders contemplate draconian actions in sealed conference rooms, the word spreads like fire in a tinderbox. Some future actions must not be shared for legal reasons, but in many cases leaders attempt to shelter people from possible actions because they do not want to cause panic. That attitude is false logic. More panic ensues from speculation than would be present if full disclosure was given.

Reinforce Candor

Praise rather than punish people for sharing their observations about inconsistencies. In most organizations, people do not believe it is safe to tell leaders the truth about their observations. Their livelihood might be at stake. When leaders invite open dialog on sensitive issues and reinforce people who verbalize their fears, it tends to extinguish the rumor mill and build a foundation of higher trust.

Be Kind

Treating people with dignity and respect is nothing more than following the Golden Rule. If leaders consistently treated people the way they would like to be treated if the roles were reversed, there would be much less fear in the workplace. When people feel intimidated or bullied, they naturally cower in fear for what might happen to them.

Develop more Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is your ability to understand emotions and your skill at being able to use that knowledge to manage yourself and your relationships with others. This skill allows leaders to act in ways that foster open dialog and lower fear. A very good book to help people gain higher EQ is Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Bradberry and Greaves.

Level with people

Be honest with people and let them know of any improvement opportunities in a supportive way. When people know you are sincerely trying to help them improve, they will be less fearful. Each person has some insecurity regardless of his or her history. Helping people grow is a great way to lower fear.

Care about others

Fear has a hard time growing in an environment where people truly care about each other. The expressions of empathy and sympathy when people are struggling mean they will feel supported in their darkest hours. They forster courage and faith that most problems are only temporary setbacks, and that life itself is an amazing journey.

Trust other people

When trust is present, fear has a hard time surviving. When leaders show that they have faith in the ability of people to do the right things, then they do not project a kind of “gotcha” environment that is evident in many organizations. The result is that people are not on edge wondering when the next outburst will occur.

The absence of unnecessary fear is a huge benefit for any organization. Some fear is good for the self preservation of individuals and organizations, but keeping it at the lowest possible level is liberating and will bring out the best in people.