Fear and Paranoia in the Workplace – Good and Bad
The other day I was instant messaging with one of my childhood friends and we landed on the topic of jobs. He’s good at what he does and has worked up to be a Director of Marketing at a major media company, yet he stated that that he was “completely paranoid that he wouldn’t be employable in 10 years” and that’s why he works harder than anyone at his company to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
I actually think this is a great frame of mind, if not taken too far. A little bit of self-inflicted fear and paranoia is a great motivator, and looking both over your shoulder and forward allows you to stay ahead of the pack. A bit of “I’m not/won’t be good enough” can motivate one to work harder and smarter to improve areas where he’s lacking.
But what I don’t condone is the use of fear and paranoia by managers and executives with their subordinates. It creates an unenjoyable workplace where employees become afraid to mess up with fear that they’ll suffer harsh consequences. I came across this article about how Scott Pioli, GM of the Kansas City Chiefs, created a culture of fear, paranoia, and secrecy to the point where Chiefs employees were worried about their phones being tapped. Check it out, it’s an interesting read.
I’m all for accountability, attention to detail, and integrity, but I think there are better ways to foster that culture. You can still be very results-oriented without scaring it into your employees. If you choose to use fear, chances are you won’t get the results you want. Just look at the Chiefs.