Fear leads to the Dark Side of Behaviour

Attracting and retaining talent in our organisations must begin with awareness of how, as leaders, our attitudes, values, fears and motivations either attract people towards us or repel people from us. Leaders lacking in self- awareness repel people and may be sabotaging organisational talent management programs.

Here are a few examples of how a lack of self-awareness repels our talented people. As soon as I walked in the door of my small and cozy gym this morning, the negative energy smacked me in the face with such force that I was unable to get my lazy heart up to its usual rate of 70% (I know it’s still low, but I’m working on it). Excessive whispering, looks of despair, anger and shock stole the focus away from the positive intention of being at the gym. Although new to this tightly knit group, who had clearly been working out together for some time, I asked ‘wazup’. “Sandy is gone! She was dismissed to make way for a new manager.” My face dropped as I breathed in the negative energy which was spreading with such ferocity. Sandy was ‘light’ itself and the reason I decided to join this particular gym. She was warming, motivating and didn’t put up with any excuses. She pushed us and loved us. She is a talented trainer and manager and she inspired people to give their best. “She was only a casual”, was the response to passionate protests against Sandy’s departure.

After years of observing the dynamics between the owner of the gym and Sandy, it was crystal clear to members that Sandy’s popularity and competence contributed to her exit, as people gravitated to Sandy and not the owner. Real or imagined, the members’ concluded the owner felt threatened by Sandy. Uninspired, many cancelled their memberships on the spot.

Earlier in the week I had a conversation with a client (say Patricia) who was struggling with her manager’s sudden change of behaviour from nurturing and supportive to undermining, critical and petty. The manager appeared to be most supportive of Patricia when she lacked confidence. However, when Patricia felt secure and developed into a talented manager herself, her manager’s behaviour took a turn for the worse. The manager felt threatened. I’m sure most of you can recount a situation where a colleague’s or manager’s behaviour has become dark as a result of feeling threatened, but a more difficult question to answer is; “Do you recognise this behaviour in yourself?”

Years ago when I was managing a human resources department I can clearly remember times when my behaviour switched to the ‘dark side’ after feeling threatened. On one occasion a team member challenged me in front of a departmental head. I then proceeded to exclude her from the next meeting. I felt threatened by her. The impact of my behaviour was great. My team member lost motivation and confidence which stopped her from being creative; worse still she stopped challenging me which impeded my own and my teams’ creativity. Before I lost this talented team member I had to do some real soul searching. I took a deep dive within and learned that I had lost focus; that my focus at the time was on self-preservation and not organisational success. Without knowing it, my self-esteem had taken a nose dive which contributed to a period where I wasn’t inspiring my team towards our goals. The politicking of our organisation was playing with my head and my heart. It was a truly great, yet painful discovery and just the wake-up call I needed to move forward and refocus on our goals.

The owner of the gym, Patricia’s manager, and I have one thing in common. We were not aware that we were afraid; that we were fearful. We were not aware how our fear disengaged talented employees and how our fear took the focus off organisational success. Without awareness of our inner fears, real or imagined, we are unable to stop our dark behaviours from impacting our performance and the performance of our team.

First comes self awareness and only then can self control follow. There are many strategic talent management programs established in organisations that claim to be successful at attracting and retaining talent to enable them to meet current and future business objectives. I wholeheartedly believe successful management of talent begins and ends with great leadership; therefore unless talent management programs include a leadership development approach that requires our leaders to examine how their values, beliefs, fears, attitudes and motivations drive their behaviours towards team members, the effort will be in vein.

In the words of Lao Tzu “She who knows others is wise. She who knows herself is enlightened.” (ok so I changed the gender). Enlightened leaders give our talented people purpose and meaning in their work; the strongest motivation for giving our best. This is what we humans are all ultimately seeking. Are we not?

Leave a Reply