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3 Reasons Possibility Trumps Fear as a Leadership Strategy

3 Reasons Possibility Trumps Fear as a Leadership Strategy

It is, of course, human nature to seek ways to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. That’s why fueling fear is a low hanging strategy for leaders who need to cause a short-term result.

For example, when it come to marketing, the products that solve a problem sell the best. Marketing campaigns that do a good job of amping up the pain tend to drive more sales. The more painful the problem the more people are willing to pay to have someone solve it. And the less work required by the purchaser, the easier the buying decision will be, often regardless of the price. Just think of those very expensive “magic pills” that promise to melt weight off.

Yet while your product may fly off the shelf at first, taking advantage of people’s pain by making promises you can’t keep is no way to lead the marketplace for the long run.

An election offers another example. After all, promising to solve people’s problems is also at the heart of a successful campaign message and strategy. Politicians not only amp up the pain, but also feed fear and fuel mistrust. Why? Because despite how much we yearn for positive campaigns and despite how many politicians start out wanting to run a positive campaign, consider that negative campaign ads are so prevalent because, sadly, they work.

As a leader in an organization, you also have the option to manipulate people into the action you want based on what they fear. A primary fear that can be used very effectively by an organizational leader is the fear of losing one’s job.

So given that a leaders role includes motivating people to take action, leveraging fear is certainly a viable strategy. Fear can indeed be used to cause people to take the action you want.

Nonetheless, I’ll suggest motivating people through possibility trumps motivating through fear every time.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Using fear as a leadership strategy fuels a mob mentality, not a team mentality.

Mobs rally around their anger and focus on lashing out. Mobs also don’t become part of a solution, but instead become paralyzed by fixating on their pain at best and destructive at worst.

2. Possibility motivates owners, while fear creates victims.

Using possibility as a leadership strategy is about fueling the belief that the future can be better so people are willing to let go of the past for the sake of their future. Fear as a strategy, on the other hand, keeps people focused on escaping the past and avoiding pain in their future. Would you rather your team fixate on being victims, or focus on how they can build that better future together?

3. Fear isolates and possibility unites.

Fear is the source of an us vs. them mentality because where there is fear there are victors and there are victims. Fueling motivation with possibility instead offers a shared future we can work towards together.

Now of course there are problems – big ones that need to be solved. There are also people and groups who have been victimized. And, of course, there are mistakes that have been made and have had seriously bad consequences.

I’m not suggesting that we pretend everything is fine and that everyone has good intentions or has done the right things in the past.

What I am suggesting, however, is this:

In fact, fear is a great strategy if what you really want for the long term is to cause destruction. However, the kind of thoughtful, committed action that offers our best hope for building a better future can only be motivated by a possibility compelling enough for us to have the courage to transcend our fears rather than be trapped by them.

I’d love to hear what you think. Does possibility trump fear as a leadership strategy?

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Tenaya Wallace   |   13 April 2016   |   Reply

Yes!! Over and over I see managers using fear instead of possibility. I don’t even think leaders are aware they do it but the fear of falling profits or not getting contracts or losing customers permiates strategy and messaging. Possibility breathes LIFE into and organization and motivates employees. It elevates strategy and causes new ideas to emerge. I love this article!!

Susan Mazza   |   13 April 2016   |   Reply

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Tenaya. I think you are right that this is a blind spot for many people in positions of leadership. After all, when a leader is operating in survival themselves, how would they even be aware that the context they are leading from is fear? I’ve been writing and doing quite a bit of work on with people to elevate their leadership from problem solving to strategic thinking. You have helped me connect these two ideas. Thanks for that 🙂