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Safety vs. Fear
Which is a Better Motivational Tool and Can They Co-Exist?

Many managers use fear as a tool to motivate people to do things. How many times have you heard "Do X by Y or else!" "Or Else" management is common place. Fear of losing your job or of not getting promoted or not getting your end of year bonus drives a lot of behavior. People are often afraid that if they don't do what their boss expects them to do, it will have adverse consequences for them and their career. This is especially true when time is of the essence such as a critical milestone on a project or a critical sales goal. In times of real crisis, when quick action is required, fear is probably the most effective way to move people to action and immediately get the behavior you desire. However, in many companies today, each urgent goal is followed by another so that it always feels like you are in crisis mode. Each sprint is followed by another sprint with little downtime in between. This sense of constant urgency can drive short term goals but does it promote alignment with a vision and allegiance to a leader, a company and your team mates over time or does it only promote compliance and perhaps resentment?

The literature on building high-performance teams tells us that trust, understanding and open communication are the foundation elements required to build a high-performance team. Leaders are encouraged to be vulnerable and approachable. The question is can you have trust and open communication when fear is used as a motivational tool? For people to talk openly and share their opinions (especially when they differ from their boss's) safety is required. Can you have both fear and safety? Can you trust a leader who uses fear to drive your performance?

I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

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