About this Post

You can drive cultural change in your organization by empowering your team and leading by example.


In this post, I expand upon some thoughts I shared earlier this year about information flow, which I also touched on in On Leadership Balance.

Do you lead by instilling fear or inspiring your coworkers?

Having come from a financially poor family, my siblings and I each did our part from a young age to contribute at home. This included getting jobs as soon as we could, while also taking care of school business. Over the years, I've seen a variety of leadership styles from various bosses; the most common was lead by fear. Leaders who lead by fear are sometimes called tough types. I think that's a misnomer, since you can still be tough or challenging without being feared.

Leave fear at the door and embrace empowerment. Having this attitude means acknowledging that, as a leader, you:

  1. Do not know everything — I certainly don't!
  2. Cannot do everything (at the highest level), and
  3. Respect your coworkers by valuing their contributions and recognizing their potential, by extension,
  4. Are willing to learn from your coworkers

In thinking about why I've experienced empowerment leadership style less than fear leadership style, I realize that there are many contributing factors, one of which is that people are creatures of habit. Work culture has, generally speaking, favored — valued — tough styles that instill fear. The lead-by-fear approach may get certain "business results", but it's not sustainable and it can often send another message to coworkers: I don't value you as a whole human being, which leads to a lack of trust and psychological safety, and, ultimately, but not limited to, a lack of engagement.

In other words, the lead-by-fear approach is a short-term solution that can lead to long-term problems.

In my current leadership role, I do everything I can to create the kind of workplace environment that inspires, respects, enables self-discovery, and fosters growth; diversity of ideas, experience, and compassion; in other words, leadership through empowering colleagues.

It may not always be easy, particularly in environments where upper leadership is not used to this kind of leadership style (or doesn't value it at first), but it's worth it.

Sound off: what leadership and collaboration style have you found works best for you and your coworkers?

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