“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”- Joseph Chilton Pearce

Fear of the boss, or the boss’s system, destroys creativity. Fear creeps into the workplace in many ways: fear of making a mistake; fear of other peoples’ opinions; fear of embarrassment; fear of change. The more afraid employees are, the less creative they will be. It is a well-accepted scientific belief that we humans need to feel secure to focus on higher-level intellectual tasks.

Let’s look at examples of how managers’ reactions impacted various creative problem-solving situations. I’ll point out specific positive ways when managers are on top of their game. But when a manager has a misstep, I’ll show you how to easily turn it around.

The first example comes from a former attendee of my management course, who was describing an early job experience. Greg was working as a forklift operator in a warehouse and quickly learned there was no pleasing his manager. Greg cites an example, “He gave me specific instructions to move pallets that would have resulted in blocked inventory, I tried to explain the problems, but he would not listen to my ideas. I was almost done with the project when he came in and exploded at me, saying I had done it all wrong. When in fact I had simply done what he told me to do.”

Greg’s manager was so focused on controlling his subordinates through intimidation that he not only blocked creative solutions but he also created chaos and conflict in the work place. When Greg overcame his fear and tried to help, by pointing out an obvious problem, he was reproached. In the end the company lost a bright young employee and very likely repeated this bad management style with future hires.

The supervisor of Greg’s manager needed to become more closely involved with the manager. By addressing situations like this as they came up, the Supervisor may have been able to turn negative behavior into a positive management style. Managers like this will not give up old, practiced behaviors easily. However, setting a strong positive example using corrective counseling that focuses on specific inappropriate behavior can turn a negative incident and style into a positive teaching opportunity. The result is a more productive and positive workplace.

My second example is from a former colleague, Jane, who is a corporate trainer. Jane worked with the owner of an organizational consulting company. The owner actively sought out the ideas of the consultants and understood that collaboration produced much better ideas than any single person could. Jane once told her boss she looked on her as a mentor. The reply was, “I don’t want to be anyone’s mentor; we’re a team here and you teach me as much as I teach you.”

Jane’s mentor believed all employees were valuable storehouses of information. She tapped in to that source by creating a safe environment where her employees did not feel threatened or vulnerable when offering ideas. The result was a dynamic team that felt self-assured and comfortable offering ideas.

A skilled leader has no ego when it comes to problem solving or finding new ideas. So why do we so seldom see this kind of leadership? We are taught early in life that the tough competitor gets the spotlight. And there are some managers who use intimidation and fear to turn down the wattage on their employees, keeping the bright light focused on themselves. However, an effective, creative manager puts the spotlight on the individual who came up with the “bright idea” or exhibited positive behavior. When I am teaching this leadership technique, students give examples of “management by fear” and “light-stealing management” more than any other style. These are commonly experienced by employees and not easily forgotten. The next example illustrates this problem.

Here is an example from Ben. He worked for a security-technology company and described a time when lost market share was discussed on a required-attendance phone conference. The President asked for everyone to be creative and honest to come up with ways to gain some traction in sales. The first person to speak stated a well-known fact. The competitor’s product had superior software capability, while their own product’s hardware was unquestionably stronger. The President’s response was, “Sounds to me like you have some loyalty issues. Would you be happier working for (the competitor)?

This manager built walls with the doors to communication and idea-generation slammed shut. A leader must build a safe house for ideas and growth. Offering an opinion or idea should get positive recognition. Managers who play the “bait and switch” game destroy employee morale. They lead employees to believe the environment is safe - “I want to hear your ideas.” But as soon as an idea is offered, the idea and its creator are attacked. The true leader never plays the “bait and switch” game. When ideas are sought, every employee is encouraged to participate. Creative thought must never bring criticism. Managers who don’t understand this will not hear any bright ideas from their employees because there is no safe room. Employees will quickly learn to keep their heads down and offer no new ideas. When this happens the whole company suffers. The employees are put in a no-win situation. The “bait and switch” game is worse than not asking for ideas and opinions in the first place. Employees can complain that no one asks for their input, but at least they are not tricked into believing their ideas might matter.

Author's Bio: 

Richard Highsmith, rick@qualityteambuilding.com, is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at Quality Team Building or call Rick toll-free at 1-888-484-8326 X101