The Only Thing to Fear

Please, don’t be scared as you read this.

The danger of fear is the focus of a new book by Gallup executive Tom Rieger called Breaking the Fear Barrier: How Fear Destroys Companies From the Inside Out and What to Do About It. The book springs off of Gallup research showing that “half of American workers feel like they are prisoners in their own company.” And it explores how, in turn, fear causes companies to “become plagued with barriers and bureaucracy that limit success, crush employees and infuse frustration and a sense of futility across the enterprise.”

To some extent, as Peter Drucker pointed out, the fear experienced by most workers in the developed world is minor relative to that of yesteryear. “Even poorly educated people in today’s society now know of opportunities,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. Even a worker who loses his job can be confident that “he and his family will not starve.”

[EXPAND More]To the extent that employees still feel slightly fearful, Drucker maintained, it’s the opposite of motivational. “Great fear drives,” Drucker pointed out, “while remnants of fear, such as exist for most American workers today, cause only resentment and resistance.”

And while fear of outside forces, such as competitors, can be healthy, internal fears are not. “Fear of a threat to the community unites,” Drucker noted in the Practice of Management. “But fear of someone within the community divides and corrodes. It corrupts both him who uses fear and him who fears.”

So apparently we have just enough fear to be dysfunctional, but not enough to be terrified into great feats. “That we have got rid of fear as a motivation to work is therefore a major achievement,” Drucker asserted. But “we cannot sit back and expect worker motivation to arise spontaneously now that fear is gone. We must create a positive emotion to take its place.”

Has fear ever played a big role in your work life? What happened? [/EXPAND]