Drive Out Fear

The Roman Emper­or Caligu­la became the epit­o­me of the auto­crat­ic tyrant with his mot­to oderint, dum met­u­ant (“let them hate, so long as they fear”). For­tu­nate­ly, there aren’t so many of these species today in eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics – although nation­al­ist and right-wing ten­den­cies don’t bode well. Yet fear in more or less sub­tle form is the unspo­ken leit­mo­tif in the hier­ar­chi­cal struc­tures of so many orga­ni­za­tions that lend abso­lutist pow­er to their pro­tag­o­nists. This is against bet­ter knowl­edge of the detri­men­tal effect of fear on cre­ativ­i­ty and productivity.

In the sec­ond half of the last cen­tu­ry, Peter F. Druck­er and W. Edwards Dem­ing both played key roles in defin­ing the per­cep­tion of orga­ni­za­tion and man­age­ment. Although they approached these issues from very dif­fer­ent angles, in the end they were aston­ish­ing­ly unan­i­mous on many points. But unfor­tu­nate­ly many of their find­ings were dis­re­gard­ed or misinterpreted.

For exam­ple, Man­age­ment by Objec­tives and Self-Con­trol has degen­er­at­ed to the dic­tate of objec­tives from above, rein­forced by (evi­dent­ly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive) mon­e­tary rewards for achiev­ing them. The result­ing fear of miss­ing those imposed objec­tives is a con­sid­er­able con­tri­bu­tion to an anx­i­ety cul­ture, which pre­vents or at least hin­ders effec­tive coop­er­a­tion. In W. Edwards Dem­ing’s famous 14 points of man­age­ment, one of the cen­tral chal­lenges there­fore is to elim­i­nate fear:

Dri­ve out fear, so that every­one may work effec­tive­ly for the company.

W. Edwards Deming

Peter F. Druck­er came to a very sim­i­lar con­clu­sion. How­ev­er, he also made a dis­tinc­tion between the fear of a threat from out­side the group and the harm­ful fear between the peo­ple in a group. The for­mer can moti­vate peo­ple, focus the activ­i­ties and weld the group togeth­er, while the lat­ter sep­a­rates the group and caus­es peo­ple to work against each oth­er rather than with each other.

Fear of a threat to the com­mu­ni­ty unites. But fear of some­one with­in the com­mu­ni­ty divides and cor­rodes. It cor­rupts both him who uses fear and him who fears.

Peter F. Drucker

One pos­si­ble form of lead­er­ship, which we are unfor­tu­nate­ly see­ing in many places as nation­al­ism is rais­ing its ugly head again, is there­fore actu­al­ly to incite fear of the oth­er or the oth­ers. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the his­to­ry of Nation­al Social­ism in Ger­many has shown very clear­ly the destruc­tive extent to which this can lead. In a much more sub­tle form, how­ev­er, this us-against-them pat­tern can also be found with­in many orga­ni­za­tions, lead­ing to all sorts of bat­tles of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and defense. This is why David Mar­quet, on the nuclear sub­ma­rine USS San­ta Fe, had this rule: “There is no ‘they’ on USS San­ta Fe!”

Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.


Both Peter F. Druck­er and W. Edward Dem­ing empha­sized anoth­er form of lead­er­ship. For them the pur­pose of the orga­ni­za­tion, the Why, is the basis of effec­tive lead­er­ship. Accord­ing­ly, they con­sid­ered the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of this pur­pose to be one of the most essen­tial man­age­ment tasks. For Dem­ing thus the “lack of con­stan­cy of pur­pose” is the first of his sev­en dead­ly dis­eases of management.

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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