Today’s Leaders Are Open, Smart Enough to Temper Fear

Have I told you all how great you look today?

Long live brown nosing.  It came in at #8 in this weeks Business Week article by Liz Ryan “Ten Signs of Fear-Based Workplace.”

Thankfully, number 8 is the only item that I see today in my immediate workplace.  And when I really think about it, brown-nosing is healthy when we it goes both ways.  When genuine, it can introduce a dose of humility that helps balance or temper our hubris, our drive to assert our will and get things moving in our desired direction.

In my team, the Global Communication Group at Intel, I believe for the most part we all lead AND we all help when and where needed.  I’m workin’ it alongside great communicators who are also doers  — not merely strategists or plan makers.  Actions help build trust.

Lots of fear has been removed in the past decade since I joined Intel in 2000.  I bet that can be said by others who worked at Intel in the 1990s, when a major mantra was Only the Paranoid Survive, coined and well explained by wiseman and former Intel CEO Andy Grove.  Grove was not wrong, in fact his approach infuses much needed severity, concern and smart motivation, especially when you’re doing battle or fighting competition.

Garden leading to the Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy

Fear-based decision making is effective, especially when you need to be in “survival mode.”  “Survival mode” may be best run autocratically, but I don’t think autocracies scale and grow quickly enough for today’s creative, faster-paced, technology-driven, cross-cultural entwined world.  Our government may be at war and our businesses may be in do-or-die competition, but leaders rise above this somehow.  Like how Odysseus cleverly created the statue Horse to get his top worriers inside the walls of Troy in one of the most epic, storied battles.

Seems that in the past, mistakes were devastating.  Today, honest mistakes can be inflection points for improvement and growth.  In fact, I hear many leaders saying that if you aren’t making mistakes, you’re limiting yourself, you’re not experimenting or trying as hard as you can.  You’re not tapping deeply enough into your skills, desires and potential.

Today I’m surrounded by stellar, inspiring people — veterans and new talent.  In my 10 years, I’ve witnessed the rise of new, open and capable managers and veteran managers who are embracing change by involving the right people up and down our organization.

Over time, our work environment has evolved to be simpler yet more dynamic.  Managers have empowered each individual more than I what I remember seeing 10, eight even five years ago.  This is because of all around, top to bottom, side to side better communication, better understanding of what motivates each individual, and trust and appreciation.

When you’re not in survival mode, this is leadership:  Here are our goals, tell me how you can help achieve them measurably, go do your thing your way, and let me know how I can help.  Let me take that back…that’s the best approach to surviving and thriving, bu harnessing the most, best potential out of each individual.

This is a trend well explained in the book by Altimeter analyst Charlene Li titled “Open Leadership.”

In my workplace, we’ve embraced then moved beyond fear into an era where we are all managing an almost overwhelming amount of opportunities and possibilities, where it’s OK to make mistakes but vital that we make progress.  Because we’re moving at Internet speed, we must make our mistakes and handle them smartly, make them count and don’t make the same ones twice.  Do this by communicating and getting more comfortable with being wrong occassionally while being quick to respond with honesty, humility and a remedy.  This is hard to do as an individual, as a spouse, parent and employee.  But starting there and bringing this devoted integrity approach to the workplace can result in integrated, magnified, multiplied results and reward for the individual, team and company.

A team may have one or two stars, but each player performing to their potential is benefiting the team, the company as a whole, better than individuals making decisions driven by fear.

The hard, cold, real conclusion Liz Ryan gives in her Business Week article explains why open leadership is ahead of fear-based leadership:

Chief executives know in their hearts that smart people, set loose to solve big problems, are responsible for every success and innovation industry has ever seen. Fear-trampled employees don’t do a thing for your business. Still, management by fear is a hard habit to break, because fear-whipped underlings don’t squawk. Meanwhile, your competitors may be hiring your best talent away and stealing market share while you make it easy for them to do so. Those meek, submissive, broken-down employees might blossom in your rival’s trust-based culture. Do you really want to find out?

More than ever, I feel — and I hope more people are feeling — fortunate, smarter, more motivated, creative and able to confront and share criticism in real time at work…and everywhere.

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