Constructive or Destructive



We all know President Roosevelt’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Straightforward, inspiring – and brilliant.

As we consciously aim to build strong organizations, relationships and cultures, we can stunt that crucial growth with unconscious thoughts and subsequent behaviors. Fear itself is the great destroyer.

During the first phase of corporate culture change engagements, I have the honor and pleasure of hearing higher caliber input than what a typical exit interview would provide. It tends to be cathartic for each person to feel the freedom and privacy to air their perspectives while intending to stay employed at the company. It’s a true win-win.

What I often find is that at the core – underneath the unique aspects of each culture and its challenges – is a need for more trust.

While there are many instances where outdated systems, unclear processes and undertrained employees cause critical and costly inefficiencies, fear tends to be the real nemesis behind it all.

Fear of making a mistake. Fear of speaking up. Fear of being wrong. Fear of conflict. Fear of candor. Fear of being scrutinized. Fear of having to compete. Fear of losing the job completely. Fear of being labeled. Fear of being passed over for a promotion.

These are only a few common examples.

The tricky part is that most often, employees don’t acknowledge the fear to themselves. Instead, they bury it somewhere in their minds and overcompensate for it in their behaviors. Collectively these behaviors cause an assortment of effects.

Fear of making a mistake can cause a person to procrastinate or simply take no action at all.

Fear of speaking up usually means that decisions are being made without critical input because that person did not contribute to an important conversation.

Fear of being wrong can sometimes be the culprit behind a know-it-all attitude, which seems shocking, but gives the person a false sense of security that their fear won’t be detected.

Fear of conflict and fear of candor are often married. Fear of being labeled and fear of being passed over for a promotion go right along as well. Someone who has a fear of conflict sometimes lacks the objective ability to define true conflict; therefore, candor becomes correlated with conflict in their minds, rendering them unwilling and/or incapable of engaging in critical conversations. These folks often fear being labeled as difficult to work with or fear that they will lose a potential promotion if that happens.

Fear of being scrutinized can cause a person to give the appearance of not being trustworthy. As they avoid drawing attention to themselves, they can inadvertently take on behaviors that others perceive to be sneaky or suspicious.

Fear of having to compete can lead a person to become passive aggressive as they channel their anticipatory angst in unhealthy ways.

Fear of losing their job is one of the most unconscious, prevalent fears in many a workforce. This fear can be the driver behind all the aforementioned fears.

Fear has tremendous power in a work environment because it can singlehandedly stop talent, teams and innovation dead in its tracks. It can prohibit the potential for excellence from ever being realized.

Most people are conscious of their anxiety, but too often the actual fear behind it has become synonymous with logic, thereby causing many people to rationalize its importance.

What does all this mean?

It means that if you really want a happy customer, an engaged workforce and a healthy profit margin, you’ll want to prioritize trust-building as a proactive measure in your culture.

There is a multitude of ways you can do so, but the first, most important step is to acknowledge the necessity. From there, your intention is set, and the opportunities will present themselves. It is up to you whether or not you seize them by stepping out of your own comfort zone to lead by example courageously.

Here are a few JMac hacks to help you keep trust-building top of mind:

  • Check in with yourself regularly. Are you cognizant of your own fear?

  • Engage in courage-inducing self-talk. We talk ourselves out of things all the time. Have you ever talked yourself into something?

  • Ask your team what each of their biggest fears is during your one-on-one discussions. Are you allowing a safe space for vulnerability?

  • Give permission for your team to talk openly about their concerns about projects or customer engagements during team meetings. Do you encourage critical thinking and collaborative discussions?

  • Support a team lunch or outing on occasion. Are you creating opportunities for your team to get to know each other?

If none of this appeals to you, perhaps your habitual focus is fixated on the bottom line, but really, the bottom line is:

Culture matters.

And trust is the secret weapon behind the best ones.

Without a doubt, you got this.