What kind of manager are you? Or, better question, what kind of manager do you want to be? A manager is just a role, a title. Who are you BEING as a manager, as an employee, is so much more important than anything else.

We have a management crisis on our hands. Most of America (indeed, most of the world), is sick and tired of their jobs. According to Forbes, over 52% of Americans hate their jobs. According to a Gallup poll, that number is over 70%! Based on my own personal experience, 70% feels about right.

That is terrible. It makes me so sad to think that 70% of the people working in this country spend most of their days being depressed and miserable. As of 2016, that’s 100 MILLION  people (thanks Wolfram|Alpha) who are sick of their jobs, every, single day.

That number is mind boggling! In an article about managers, why am I so concerned with the total of disgruntled employees? Because amongst the top business leaders in the world it’s common knowledge that employees don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.

Think about it. The last time you hated your job and wanted to quit, or the last time you actually quit, WHY did you quit? Sure, the job sucked. But WHY did the job suck? I’m willing to bet that in almost every case, it was a bad manager who led to your work disatisfaction.

In an age where 100 million American employees hate their jobs, there are a LOT of bad managers to blame.

It’s time we take responsibility for this crisis and begin to pull ourselves out of the muck. It starts with you, right now. No matter what your position is. You could be the biggest CEO or the lowest level employee at your company, it doesn’t matter, everyone is capable of changing their relationship with fear which will increase not just your job satisfaction, but everyone else’s around you.

Like ripples in a pond, your relationship with fear can affect an entire company...

Like ripples in a pond, your relationship with fear can affect an entire company…

Creating a cultural shift is everyone’s responsibility. Part of the problem is that, while many publications, managers, and consultants agree that workplace dissatisfaction is a problem and costing companies hundreds of millions of dollars each year, many do not see management as the culprit.

Most people, when looking at disengagement in the workplace, point at the culture, and this leads to too many offices taking the team out for lunches or hiring strange horse therapists or whatever is in vogue in the corporate consulting world at the time.

The true issue is much simpler, but it hurts more so no one talks about: the reason employees become disengaged at work is because their managers force them to. It’s as simple as that.

Stop pointing the finger at some weird ephemeral “company culture” and start looking at the source of the problem, bad management.

I have never witnessed an employee become disengaged under a manager who empowered them. It’s basic human biology and sociology.

What Leads to Disengagement?

The number one factor that causes an employee to become disengaged and dissatisfied with work is disempowerment. When that person is stripped of their individual power and agency.

Why does this arise? Because managers are afraid. When managers are afraid, they create a fear based culture that trickles down throughout an entire organization.

One anxiety riddled manager at the top can spell certain doom for an entire company. It’s true. I’ve seen it happen multiple times.

Fear is such an organization killer because when humans are in fear, we are anxious. Anxiousness is our fight or flight response kicking in. This causes us to become incredibly defensive all of the time. Our defensiveness prevents creative thinking which kills productivity. It also lowers our ability to trust others, in fact, we become paranoid around our coworkers and managers. This paranoia degrades company morale and teamwork. Suddenly we are thinking about terrible future scenarios. Our minds are not on the tasks at hand. This causes productivity to go down…

Why did I mess up that TPS report?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Why did I mess up that TPS report?!?!?!?!?!?!?

This unchecked fear spirals out of control quickly like a brush fire. I’ve seen an entire company become swept away by a CEO’s anxiety in under an hour. That’s how quickly fear can spread.

What Does Fearful Management Look Like?

Managers who are fearful lead with fear. Some purposefully instill fear in their subordinates. This is the boss who yells and hollers during meetings, or the boss who threatens to fire people to get his way.

I call this actively fearful management. When someone is managing in this way, they knowingly use fear as a means of motivation.

Active fear based management is so alluring because, in the short term, a manager can get amazing results. I knew a manager who, when sales were down, would walk into the sales office and yell up a storm. Within moments after his tantrum sales would be up!

Unfortunately this never lasts and that manager had to constantly harass his sales team on an ongoing basis. This was also unhealthy for the sales team as they suffered from incredible amounts of stress and anxiety.

This also creates yes-men. A boss who instills fear in his subordinates will always be surrounded by a cadre of yes-men. These are the men who are so committed to saving their jobs they’ll say anything to get into the boss’s good graces, even if it goes against their morals or better judgement.

On the other end of the spectrum you have passively fearful management. These managers are scared of everything themselves, and this manifests outwardly as a lack of trust in everything (especially their subordinates).

Managers who are passively fearful are usually micromanagers. They’re so afraid to fail that they have to constantly micromanage their employees. There is usually a massive fear around failure or of being liked.

Their fear is completely internalized and it comes out passively in their management. Managers who are afraid to be liked usually can’t make decisions or be bold when they need to be (they’re afraid to offend or hurt someone because they desperately need to be liked and loved).

These managers also tend to be extremely risk averse because they’re so afraid of failure. Often times these managers will a company straight into the ground because that was the safe thing to do, even if their entire staff is telling them otherwise.

The worst managers exhibit both forms of fear management. They actively instill fear on purpose on their subordinates and passively instill fear into all of their decisions.

Top Managers Practice Fearlessness

You can’t just flip a switch and instantly become fearless. It doesn’t work that way. To be fearful is a very human condition, and to attain fearlessness is a practice that takes a lifetime.

In America, we have lost the meaning of fearlessness (especially as a practice). Our culture and marketing are driven by avoiding those things that cause us fear, and holding on tightly to anything that causes us pleasure. Unfortunately, this is how you cultivate fear.

The reasons are quite simply from a marketing perspective. The more people fear uncontrollable the more people will seek out pleasure, instant gratification. Instead of learning to deal with and feel our fear fully, why hide behind cheeseburgers, movies, drugs, and all sorts of things that preoccupy us, things that keep us from feeling.

If you want to become a better manager, a top manager, you have to learn to get in touch with your fear. Truly feel it. The techniques one can use to do this are many, and humans have spent the past twelve thousand years developing them.

The only way out is through...

The only way out is through…

Smile at Fear will provide you with a guide to achieve fearlessness. It’s perhaps the best guide I have found on the subject and I highly recommend it if you wish to start a journey towards becoming fearless.

When a manager is fearless, she can lead fearlessly. Fearless leadership inspires others. Just as fear can infect an entire company, so can fearlessness.

Fearless Management Cliff-Notes

You don’t have time to read a book or find a guru. So who can you start practicing fearless management now?

  1. The first step is to recognize and acknowledge where you are being fearful at work and in your management. The trick is to be totally honest with yourself. Perhaps you are afraid people will hate you, or you’re afraid you’ll miss your quarterly numbers, or you’re afraid you’ll get fired. Whatever it is, you need to recognize it and be honest with yourself.
  2. Next, you must accept you have these fears. The reason fear based management is so prevalent is that people suppress and deny their fears (they then need to subconsciously act them out). You have to face your fear head on.
  3. Meditation is the next key to success. Many people frown on meditation but it is making a comeback in the west. You don’t need to be religious or spiritual to meditate. Meditation is a mind exercise when practiced properly. To meditate on fear is to sit relaxed but with good posture, and then let your mind wander. As thoughts come up, label them thoughts and let them go. Do this every morning for 15 minutes and any time you start to feel fearful. Anxiety and fear only exist because we believe the stories and thoughts in our head as truth. Practicing to let go of your thoughts will allow you to stop believing your thoughts are true.
  4. Honesty is the best policy. Once you have found your fears, it’s important that you are honest about them with yourself AND your team. The more honest you are, the deeper you’ll connect with yourself and with your team. This deeper connection breeds loyalty and trust. This honesty shows powerful leadership, and it then gives permission to those who follow you to be honest and to be leaders as well.
  5. Practice gratitude. Whenever you’re afraid or sense the fear in others, think or write down everything you’re grateful for. You cannot be in fear if you are in gratitude and compassion.
  6. Lead by example and inspiration instead of fear. If you are afraid of something, the best way out of it is through. There’s no going around your fears, you have to face them head on and dive through them. Do not ask your employees to do this. Instead, do it yourself, and they will follow. Do not point out the fear in others, that’s not leadership, that’s criticizing. As we all know, telling someone they’re wrong is wrong. Instead, lead by example, inspire!

If every manager took these 6 steps seriously, we would have the happiest employees in the world.