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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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Filed under: Leadership


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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