The Anti-Fear Motivation: the Lessons of Lady Gaga and the Dixie Chicks

"A little bit of fear is a good thing."

That comment is neither new nor novel.  But, whether you're talking the "War on Terror" or creating corporate sales, it has become a staple for ostensible motivation - whether of your employees or society as a whole.

It's a sorry state when it's the voices of pop and country stars - from yesterday's Dixie Chicks anti-war comments to today's Lady Gaga rallying her audience to peacefully protest Arizona's SB1070 - are not only needed but simultaneously vilified for trying to remove fear from the equation.

Because, while fear may create a short term win, it decimates long term success.

My first time hearing the statement in a corporate setting was from a senior Sales executive in a division of a Big Pharma organization.

His problem?  His sales force wasn't making its numbers and that was knocking his bonus off track.  His solution? "Motivate" his sales force by making clear that they needed to make their numbers or they could lose their jobs.  Be summarily dismissed.  Be walked out the door.  Have their Blackberries confiscated.

Possibly.  But not absolutely.  (Because that would have been against both the law and corporate policy.)

So, what they needed to do was make sure that they didn't get themselves into that position by performing. That's all.  Just sell the product.  Go team!

And they did.  They made the numbers he needed - in volume.  But to get there, they cut deals with their customers that did more financial damage to that division than anyone had ever seen before.

But our smiling executive got his numbers.  And his bonus.  Until he lost his job - and deservedly so.  (The division was later spun off as a stand-alone company.)

Fear is a despicable strategy.  It works against any organization's long-term goals simply to fulfill an individual's short-term needs.  It is, in fact, the tactic of cowards.

There is too much research on empowerment and the importance of collaboration to innovation, improved operations and financial success to ignore.  And, consistently, within that research, we find that the more that executives create a culture without fear, the more successful - and sustainable - their organization is.

That doesn't mean that you don't or can't tell employees the truth.  You have to tell them the truth - whether things are going well or not.

That's why there is such a sense of betrayal even by employees today who have jobs.  They've given in on everything from salary increases to cutting their hours and, as a result, their ability to financially sustain themselves, because their executives told them that the company would go bust if they didn't.

So they took the hit - and now they're seeing those companies' profits soar.  Yet their salaries and hours aren't improving.

Because those executives are still maintaining that things could go wrong.  There might be a double-dip recession.  Consumer confidence isn't what it needs to be.  While they're taking their bonuses.

You can't have it both ways and win.

Remember, your people really are your most valuable asset.  They are the ones who know how to make things happen in your organization.  They are the ones that work within the effective and ineffective systems by which your organization works.

They are not easily replaceable - even in a downturn.  Nor by contracting.  Because when your people walk out the door, they take all their knowledge and experience with them.  And they bring it to your competitors.

So, small business or large.  Entrepreneurial venture or legacy organization.  Across sectors and industries, pay attention and don't make the core long-term mistake that can make or break your company.

Fear is a bad thing.  If you see it being perpetuated in your enterprise, get rid of the person who's doing so - because that person's goals are not the same as yours.  At least not if you want to keep your job - and your organization - for long.

That's not fear-mongering.  That's fact.
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