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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

A number of recent situations have led me to think a bit more about fear when it comes to business. Depending on your role and where the fear comes from, I’ve noticed that it can be incredibly useful or incredibly damaging. Either way, it’s a very powerful thing.

I tend to work best when I’m excited about something, and the best thing to get me going is a challenge. I’m not sure why, and I sometimes wish it wasn’t the case, but the anticipation of doing something that has never been done energizes me with this fear that I’m toying with the unknown and could quite easily fail. Although I have written about how we should embrace failure as a learning tool, I do still try to avoid it.

I’ve noticed that most other entrepreneurs feel the same way. That type of fear fuels creativity, breaks monotony, and makes the job more exciting. So much more, in fact, that they search it out. New ideas mean new answers, which means business. The new problems that stem from this only fuel that pursuit.

While I just explained how fear can be a driver in business, I also need to stress how it can be a killer. If you’re not entrepreneurial and require security, fear sucks. It’s worse when it comes from within the company. When an employee finds out that their trusted employer is going through financial hardships, they’re not pumped. The only thing they’re inspired to do is look for a new job. Business owners need to understand this, since I’ve seen such a huge disconnect with owners thinking that their team will respond to fear the same way that they would.

The one thing that I can’t stand to see is when the owner tries to use it as a leadership tool. Personally, I find it to be a lack of creativity or compassion for their team. Perhaps it’s simply because they feel that it will inspire and motivate their crew, but once again, employees aren’t engaged that way. Employees have different motivators – stability, a sense of accomplishment, a promising future. Lead by fear and you lack to accomplish any of those.

With those points in mind, how do you see yourself? Are you currently an employee that gets excited about uncertainty? Are you a business leader that keeps white knuckles in the face of change?

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.


  • Joe Keating says:

    I dig your website and the words you write. You are absolutely correct. Some lead by fear others lead by encouragement. I fear I am a victim of the former and so wish to have a “boss” practicing the latter. Well we do live in an imperfect world, and sometimes we must settle for what we have. I believe that I am motivated by encouragement and challenge as you describe and leader who lead with the fear factor are generally in my opinion, poor leaders. Thanks for letting me air that out.
    Joe Keating

    ps. I found you off of linked in which was a cool posting I must say on your part.

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