Leadership Skill — Does Fear Motivate?

In nearly every seminar I give when the conversation shifts to motivation we have to cover the front end concept of whether motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic. Does it come from each individual internally or is it conditioned by external factors? There are some strong beliefs on either side, but I must say that I believe people can be motivated, and that people are not just naturally motivated, or not.

Many of my leadership seminars cover the concepts of motivation, inspiration, and purpose. My strongest belief is that purpose is the most important factor for workplace motivation, but it is not just that simple. Often hard charging workplace leaders, those who hold formal positions of leadership such as supervisors, managers, and directors unconsciously drive workplace performance from a position of fear. They often state the consequence of poor performance, failure to achieve goal, or why change should or should not happen from a position of fear.

They are known to make statements such as:

“Anyone who doesn’t achieve their sales goal is gone at the end of the month.”

“The other division is beating us on goals every month. I’m afraid top management is going to make some changes.”

“We always do it this way, if you don’t like that you probably should find a different job.”

Depending on the economy, unemployment rate, and the availability of a skilled workforce for a particular industrial or business sector (and geographic location) some of these fear oriented comments may cause people to spring into action. Some long-term supervisors actually make these statements with a certain level of pride, after all, once upon a time their boss told them something similar.

If you are still unsure, yes, fear can be a motivator, but it is likely at the demise of long-term, culturally efficient or effective teams. Fear as a motivator tends to create an, us against you, attitude. It is the idea of, you don’t care about me, and so I in turn don’t care about you. The long-term consequences are frightening. If you are familiar with the buzz phrase “pay check only” employees then you don’t need to look any further than fear being used as a tool to motivate. Employees need to be inspired and need to understand their sense of purpose to the organization and its mission. When this occurs the strength of the team has everything to do with goal achievement and performance excellence, sure pay is important and will always be a factor but motivating through fear is one of the most deadly workplace culture sins.

Don’t motivate through fear.

– DEG

See related: 7 Reasons to Inspire

Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSP), and coach that specializes in helping businesses and individuals accelerate their leadership, their team, and their success. He is the author of the newly released book, Forgotten Respect, Navigating A Multigenerational Workforce. Reach him through his website at DennisEGilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.

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