Fear As A Motivator In Business

Fear, whether recognised or not, is often the motivator of choice used in business to deliver performance. And while I do not doubt that it does deliver, I am also sure that it does not optimise the potential of any business. Further that without fear, the business would be far more successful.


Active Knowledge Question:

What do you believe is the underlying energy/motivation that permeates your business?


Fear And Contribution

Many leaders would not recognise that fear is the motivator of choice in their business. But fear present within any business will undermine its competitive fitness and performance.

The impact of fear within a business can be most readily described as follows:

  • When fear is present, a person’s fight or flight response is activated, and their sympathetic nervous system is lite up. And while fear may drive immediate focus and action, it is not sustainable over an extended period of time.
  • If fear is your constant underlying energy, then over time you will become drained, ill and weaker – in all respects. Your performance will diminish, and your ability to contribute will deteriorate.
  • Each one of us has a limited amount of willpower. Sleep and rest restore its battery levels each day, but the activities of a day drain those reserves. Taking on challenging tasks when your willpower reserves are high and leaving routine tasks for later in the day when your reserves maybe exhausted is best practice. However, add fear into your daily routine, and you will start the day with depleted reserves, which will be drain even more quickly.
  • A leader at any level in business can instill fear into their workplace.
  • Fear is contagious, and even if not spoken about its presence can quickly permeate an entire business.

Now, of course, I would not include the nervous energy that many of us feel and welcome before a big meeting, public speaking, the outcome of a bid and similar. This is not fear; this is anticipation and excitement and brings the best one has to offer to the table.


Sources of Fear

In a business context, fear can be seeded in many ways, and although we often think of fear in a physical sense, it’s far more impactful at the emotional level.

Here are some common examples of fear in business, fear of:

  • Loss of employment
  • Failure of a project
  • Being unable to undertake a task satisfactorily
  • Ridicule by managers and colleagues
  • Not belonging
  • Performance appraisals
  • Leaders, and just interacting with them
  • Change and learning new things
  • The unknown and uncommunicated
  • Being paid your wage each week.

Many of these sources of fear are common in all businesses and are simply accepted as part of the rough and tumble of business and being employed. Employees are expected to be able to manage their emotions and deal with these fears on a day to day basis.

But clearly there is a scale, and the more you as a leader can reduce the level of fear, or uncertainty, then the stronger the competitive fitness of your business.

Quite simply, you do not want your employees’ energy being absorbed by fear in their daily work. You want a very different type of energy permeating every aspect of your business.


Trust and Engagement

The competitive strength of your business lies in the combined effort and talent of everyone who works within and with your business. Fear will drain this strength. Fear will see this strength directed in all the wrong ways.

The relationship between leadership and everyone else involved in the business must be founded in trust. If you trust someone, you believe and have faith that they do and will act with your interests at the forefront. They will act with honesty and sincerity and will certainly not put their own personal interests ahead of yours.

Relationships founded in trust negate fear and strengthen engagement. And from engagement, the combined talent and effort applied in the business will grow exponentially.

Of course, a profit-first motive present within a business typically sees ‘everyone else’ as a cost centre to be minimised rather than the source of competitiveness. A profit-first motive seeds fear and weakens competitiveness.

If leaders can switch their mindset to see the business and its competitiveness as founded in ‘people’, then the entire way they approach the business changes. A motive to compete will follow, and profit will be seen as the outcome of the business’s level of competitive fitness, which lies in its people.


Success As The Fuel

Success is the fuel of life. It energises and enlivens us. Without success as a catalyst in our lives, we will not and cannot reach our potential. Striving for success is an enabler. It draws our best to the surface and allows us to see what we are really capable of achieving.

Success comes from within. Only we can make ourselves successful through our beliefs, thoughts and actions. Success cannot be given to you by others.

Success is a renewable resource. We can generate it every moment of every day and can bring an abundance to our lives that we never thought possible.

Every person is capable of living a life of enduring success.


Success As Your Motivator

In business, as a leader, you must define what success looks like in your business and not allow the default of wealth, power or position to be the measure.

To change the way success is thought of in your business, you need champions of success throughout your business at every level. These are not people who just talk about success but people who live it. People who see their lives as ones of success. Not success based upon wealth, power or position but success based upon personal achievement in many areas of their lives.

Success being championed throughout your entire business will have a profound effect on performance in all respects. And successful people already exist throughout your entire business; you just need to find them and unleash their power.

What can success look like in your business to empower each and every person to contribute their utmost? Try this:

‘At the end of each day, you want to feel a real satisfaction in the effort you have put in and the rewards you have achieved. You want to feel an abundance within, a real joy and quiet knowing that you have worked hard for the rewards earnt. A pride in your efforts for the day and the outcomes delivered’.

Imagine the competitive energy that can be unlocked in your business if everyone came to work every day with an anticipation of the success they could achieve.

The workings of the competitive engine in your business are the source of competitiveness and will take your business to an entirely new level of performance.


There is an energy that flows through and permeates every aspect of your business. As a leader, you must be tuned into that energy and ensure it is magnifying and compounding the business’s competitive strength, and not dispersing and neutralising it.

An entirely new level of performance.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel