Stop Leading Through Fear!
18 Replies
Norm Howe
74 Posts

@Luigi Sille Certainly everyone agrees with this. However, in order to make it actionable, we need data. If I'm going to ask a company to spend money to drive out fear, I need hard evidence.

@Norm Howe
I highly suggest looking at any psychology journal. There is quite a bit of research to support this. My one main criticism of ASQ is that the human side of quality is not consistently integrated. We can address quality processes and quality of products all we want, but if we do not address the human side, it will not matter.

@Norm Howe
It shouldn't take capital to improve a culture. Leaders should embrace a challenge process to help improve, and it shouldn't take money to drive a improved working relationships and working environments.

Norm Howe
74 Posts

@Mark Schrader It takes a lot of time & money to change a culture. Managers need justification to spend precious resources on anything. I'm looking for DATA to provide that justification to them. If you have it, let me see it.

Norm Howe
74 Posts

@Jacqueline Martin You're right. ASQ neglects the human side. One of the reasons is that they don't even know it [Dunning Kruger]. Same thing applies to most top executives. They will only be convince by data. We've searched high & low for DATA connecting fear to lost profits. If you've found some, send me a link.

Norm Howe

From my view: I get an ongoing desire to readily have access to data to drive improvement initiatives. Sometimes we have the fortune of having access to data as a natural part of the business processes and development/production processes; sometimes we may need to manually capture examples. In building a case to drive out fear, I'd suggest we consider some points from Deming's book, Out of the Crisis and make notes of instances we observe or experience about respective points; selected points follow:
  • afraid to express ideas
  • afraid to ask questions
  • impaired performance and padded figures
  • mistrust the management
  • unable to make wise choices for the good of the company
In my mind, effects of this include many improvement opportunities that are not voiced and are not pursued. I do not know of a company that can afford to miss such opportunities.

There is a lot of research out there on leadership styles and impact on employees/business. I think "Leading through fear" falls more under the Authoritative style. You can look at the breadth of research out there and correlate it with overall profit/success of an organization. If you look at a recent article on "Top 10 Drivers of Employee Satisfaction" (, feeling valued by the org is listed as #1, with confidence in leadership as #2. If you assume that this leadership style (through fear) leads to employee burnout and eventually employee turnover, look at the average cost of that. This Gallup article cites employee turnover costing US businesses $1 trillion, and this was from 2019 ( so the cost is likely higher now. This site mentions the cost of a single employee's turnover as 1.5-2X that employee's salary ( So it would seem that employee retention should be high on a business's list. These two articles correlate authoritative leadership style with performance:, This article looks at the effect of leadership on financial performance in an industrial setting: These two articles look at leadership styles and employee trust/work engagement in non-profit organizations:, This article looks at leadership styles, work engagement and outcomes in communication tech professionals:
Norm Howe
74 Posts

@Melissa Reeves Thanks, Lots of good info on proxies for fear.

@Melissa Reeves - This is a really great response - well thought-out and appropriately researched. In Deming's System of Profound Knowledge, the fourth ingredient (in addition to systems perspective (e.g., end-to-end flow of activities), variation analysis (e.g., data), and theory of knowledge (e.g., an understanding of the way things work, he added psychology (e.g., understanding how the human condition integrates into the workplace). This fourth element deals with motivation (according to Yoshio Kondo: “Stimulating the desire to work”) and the job of leadership to provide encouragement and not create an atmosphere of fear, but one of support. Your research supports this approach well and it was presented in Deming's 1994 “The New Economics” in a chapter on the executive's role in transformation. Good job! :)


Very good points, Thanks!
It's always easer said than it's done.
I talk to many top executives about Deming's 14 point, and they all agree.
But when it comes to business reality, rarely see supporting it.

Hear is an image that explains it all

@Luigi Sille
Just to offer a different spin on fear. I was fortunate to have taken Dr. Deming's 4-day seminar in the 1970's. He spent a lot of time on “Drive Out Fear”. During the week he invited over to his house one evening. He admitted (over a few martinis) that Drive Out Fear was the most important of the 14-points.

I am a Vietnam combat veteran. I remember a commanding officer to told me to feel and embrace the fear and then use it to get the job done. You can use fear to your advantage.

My experience is that fear and leaders will always be there together. What makes the difference is how the leader chooses to deal with the emotion. Do they need to control every aspect of every day, or do they understand that there will always be unknowns, setbacks, and pain points, so they prepare and embrace each talent on the team?



@Luigi Sille- As a retired Quality Professional, I find it dis-heartening to see this topic being discussed by the “Quality 4.0” generation. We have obviously failed you if this is still a discussion topic in late 2022. Apologies to you and Dr.Deming for letting our side down.

Norm Howe
74 Posts

@Ronald Sedlock Very interesting. Do you know off-hand if that statement about point 14 being the most important is documented anywhere? I'm doing some writing currently and would love to reference it.


Sorry I don't know anywhere that documents Deming's believe that Drive Out Fear is the most important of the 14-points. Publicly Deming would never admit which point was the most important. As I mentioned he confessed his preference to me over the influence of alcohol. He does reference fear many times in his book Out of the Crisis. Check the index for the multiple refences to "fear".
Personally I got interested in the fear factor after my Vietnam experience. I studied the various documented sources on the Psychology of Fear. I always talk about fear in my consulting and training services.
Fear is a normal human condition. Might as well use it.
Good luck with your writing.

@Luigi Sille
Leadership through fear really doesn't work. Just look at military history, it points this out unfortunately with tragic results. Also high turn overs in a workplace because people tend to leave or get fired is NEVER good.

Norm Howe
74 Posts

@Larry Cichelli Absolutely right. I posted on this subject relative to recent military history with tragic results: Putin's Principles of Management.

@Mark Schrader I would even add that the sole focus on “capital” is what fosters this fear driven culture… self-capital as well company focus/values

you can't fix a problem with the same mindset as what created it. That said, the focus of increasing savings can work in certain situations.

I have always had the mindset of having to speak the same language as upper management, often which is capital based.

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