How Managers Can Unlearn Fear-Based Leadership

Many leaders in conventional corporate environments struggle to be their most authentic selves in a competitive workplace that amplifies the pressure to perform and deliver results. No wonder they often adopt fear-based tactics to induce employees to complete tasks in order to achieve organizational goals.

But this fear-based approach ultimately acts as a wedge between employees and their superiors and erodes job satisfaction. A McKinsey investigation found that 86% of employees consider their relationship with management to determine job satisfaction. Of these, 45% of respondents who said they had “very bad” relations with management were somewhat or completely dissatisfied with their jobs.

Leaders who embrace servant leadership and approach everyone in the organization with compassion can act as critical change agents. When leaders let go of fear-based practices and become more authentic, they reinforce emotional connection employees have with their workplace. Individual creativity and work performance are enhanced.

As more and more employers make concerted efforts to instill healthier company cultures, the traditional corporate structure can be difficult to unlearn. Here are four ways to strip down corporate personality and become an authentic leader.

Recognize strengths and weaknesses

The traditional corporate culture that prioritizes results and profit over employee well-being creates pressure on workers to meet unrealistic expectations. As a result, employees are not recognized for the individual strengths they bring to the team and, over time, may become disengaged from the company’s mission.

Last year, Gallup reported that less than 15% of American employees actively participate in their work. Leaders who ignore the strengths and weaknesses of their employees often face disgruntled workers and high turnover rates.

Leaders need to focus on who the employees are and how best to align their strengths with business goals. This helps them better understand how employees can positively impact an organization to meet strategic growth initiatives. Fostering authenticity in the workplace means people are allowed to have weaknesses (including leadership). No one is perfect, and recognizing weaknesses can help people be more self-aware and build on the strengths of others. Leading by example is an opportunity to authentically show one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

Leaders can provide support by collaborating with team members on their own professional development roadmap that positions each individual for success. Working to maximize and develop each employee’s unique skills and talents helps workers hone their strengths to become more productive members of an organization. Some examples may include monthly or quarterly meetings that highlight team or individual achievements, employee recognition programs, intentional goal setting, or professional development opportunities, such as conferences or continuing education. .

Recognize real and perceived biases

Unconscious bias in the workplace occurs when an employee, influenced by their background, culture, or personal experience, makes a quick judgment or assessment of a peer or situation. Bias can stem from age, gender, and race, among other factors.

Bias presents a barrier for organizations striving to foster a truly diverse, fair and inclusive work environment if it is not addressed appropriately. Effective leadership requires active awareness of biases. Leaders must be intentional in their efforts to limit its impact on an organization.

Deloitte’s inaugural inclusion survey found that 60% of employees report prejudice in the workplace. And 84% think it negatively affects their happiness, confidence and well-being.

Leaders must cultivate a respectful and collegial space to acknowledge and discuss biases. It helps everyone think about how individual perspectives can influence their opinions of others. This is the power to foster a culture of authenticity.

The process of challenging one’s own biases takes work and effort; it doesn’t happen overnight. When leaders take the time to listen and reflect, they model for their team how to be someone who seeks understanding and upholds a culture of learning to ensure their biases are not addressed. do not negatively influence business decisions.

Celebrate the “whole” employee

In the past, professional identity was often independent of personal identity. Employees created work personas to meet expectations set by traditional corporate culture. These personalities, however, prevented employees from displaying behaviors that were true to themselves. This leads to disengagement and ultimately productivity and goals suffer.

Rather than creating a workplace that demands a buttoned-up, sterile identity, leaders can cultivate a culture that empowers employees to be a whole, real person with themselves and each other.

When leaders are aware of employee identity and create space for employees to reflect on workplace goals, they help employees identify shared values ​​between their professional and personal lives. By doing so, employees are more likely to challenge themselves, create a more enjoyable work environment, and seek balance in their lives.

For example, ask employees to choose a word that serves as a common thread connecting aspects of their personal and professional lives. Choosing a “word of the year” can help focus intent, encourage personal growth, and accelerate the connection between employees and leaders. By doing so, leaders can more easily encourage employees to be intentional about the type of employee and person they can become.

Eliminate bad internal conversation leads

The traditional corporate environment can demand a lot of time and effort from employees to achieve results, often without praise for a job well done. As a result, employees may question their ability to meet organizational expectations.

Unmet expectations encourage the development of damaging internal talking points that discredit accomplishments and prevent success. This happens when employees doubt their abilities. A lack of constructive feedback, unclear communication, lack of goals, extreme stress, and existing mental health issues can compound the problem. The repetition of this false narrative can harm the career trajectory of the employee.

A review of impostor syndrome at work published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that more than 50% of working professionals believe they don’t belong in their roles. Employees with impostor syndrome are less likely to contribute meaningful work, and their job satisfaction suffers.

Leaders who embrace positive conversation leads for themselves are more likely to show trust and forgiveness to their employees. Employees, in turn, begin to eliminate their own negative self-talk and instead focus on contributing to organizational productivity.

Creating an authentic work environment that employees enjoy, whether in-person or virtual, requires a leader to give them their full attention and support. Leadership styles will need to bravely break the corporate mold to introduce an authentic self that is welcome in the workplace.

Authentic leadership means acknowledging employees’ strengths and weaknesses, acknowledging unconscious biases, eliminating negative self-talk, and providing employees with personal and professional growth to benefit the success of an organization and its employees.


Amy Brown is the Founder and CEO of Authenticx, the software platform that analyzes and activates patient voice at scale to uncover transformative opportunities in healthcare.


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