• Curt Mercadante

A work culture based on fear

“This is an unmitigated disaster!”

That exclamation was a common one from the head of an organization I served through my former agency. It got to be a joke (quietly, of course) among the team members.


Some people would drop a pen and a pencil and exclaim, “This is an unmitigated disaster!” to highlight the humor that almost all challenges and setbacks seemed to deserve that response from their boss.


Joking aside, that response was one of the things that created an environment of fear within this organization.


In his book, Adversaries into Allies: Master the Art of Ultimate Influence, author Bob Burg writes that we all have a “default setting":

Your “default setting” is your natural response to a certain stimulus.
When an uncomfortable situation occurs, what is your default setting? Do you get uptight? Panicky? Do you get Angry? Nervous? Hyper? Do you yell? Act forceful? Do you act unconsciously? Or, do you remain calm? Are you in personal control? Do you rationally assess the situation? Do you slow down in order to make sure you’re taking everything into consideration?
Your default setting to pressure situations is directly proportional to your ability to problem-solve, to live in the solution and to lead (whether a team, business, charity, family, etc.).

Well, “unmitigated disaster” was this manager’s default setting. And it radiated outward to impact the mindset and behaviors of everyone on the team.


It created a climate of fear in which the goal became avoiding the wrath of the manager instead of communicating the best or most creative ideas.


The team began focusing on what could "get approved" rather than what would get the best results.


Individuals entered meetings with trepidation, unsure of what words or phrases would set off the "disaster" declaration.


A climate of fear pushes creativity aside in favor of survival.


When we’re in survival mode, we make worse decisions.


We make choices based on what will preserve our jobs, rather than what will provide better outcomes.


That’s not a work culture based on freedom and fulfillment.


And it’s not a work culture that’s purposeful, productive, and profitable.

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