Fear or Vision: Two Cultures with Different Results

May 13, 2018
Paul LaRue

I usually run into two types of organizations.

  1. Vision driven organizations who look to gain influence.
  2. Fear driven companies who try not to lose influence.

Fear driven and vision driven organizations have diametrically distinct cultures that create starkly different results.

Fear driven companies usually have two styles of leadership.

The first style of leadership is the motivation by fear approach. This is where leadership uses punitive measures to grow business, achieve performance, or exert their individual influence over various individuals across the company. The type of culture created by this leadership style may lead to short term results. However, over the long haul as disengagement and turnover manifest, productivity and trust will start to erode, which shows the toxic nature of this type of leadership. An example of this type of culture is the Chicago-based water faucet company that tried to instill fear to increase productivity by installing swipe cards on their bathrooms to limit bathroom breaks. 

The other type of fear driven company is the one that is held back by fear. This is the type of company that is afraid to get out of its comfort zone, fearful to spend money, or nervous about taking risks. On a smaller scale these are individuals who are afraid they can’t afford the negative online review or to spend a few dollars to invest in their fledgling business. In the larger organizations, these are leadership teams that are afraid to embrace shifting industries or blossoming technologies. Companies with this culture miss opportunity and are held back from stretching themselves and their people to see what they can truly achieve. Blockbuster Video is a good example of a fear-driven company that was held back by this cultural mindset.

Visionary organizations are much different in their view of themselves. Yes, the best visionary organizations have a view towards the future and even have a wider view of the market and world landscape they sense is developing. But they also see their very own culture in a visionary way. By and large these organizations see their people as vital to their success, as valued individuals with a voice, and as persons on whom they can trust and depend. Fear driven companies do not possess or have the capacity in their current state to be visionary both externally and internally.

Small companies such as Mainstay Technologies and Cornerstone have a deep culture of vision for their industry coupled with a vision for their people. This vision drives their standing in their industries and separates them from their competitors. Mainstay’s vision of positively impacting every life they touch and Cornerstone’s pursuit of people who are well-rounded, self confident, and creative, personify what vision driven organizations do. They define a culture of long-lasting excellence and success, no matter how large or small they may be.

Don’t let fear drive your organization. Replace it with a vision so large that there is no room for fear.

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Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.

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