"In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."
Martin Niemoller

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 400

Estimated reading time:  2.45 minutes


The world is filled with examples of terrible acts of violence; Paris and Beirut just last week, unarmed young African American men gunned down in American streets by police officers, and countless acts of violence committed against women across the planet every day, are just three that come to mind. While there are many explanations offered by pundits and experts, there is a common theme; violence is often a reaction to fear. People afraid of losing their status, afraid of uncertainty, afraid of losing their ability to make choices for themselves, or loss of community, or afraid of injustice, and wanting to right a wrong.


In our workplaces, although not as often places of physical violence, fear plays a role in creating emotional violence and conflict. The more I feel that I am respected, the more certain about the future I can be, the more choices I can make in how I do my work, the more included I am in the team, and the more fairness I witness, the less afraid I will be. The less afraid I am, the more creative, innovative, and engaged in the work I will be.


And our role as leaders is to create space for the people we work with to be creative, innovative and engaged in the work. It behooves us to lessen the fear that creeps stealthily or overtly around our organizations. Here are three simple ways to lessen fear:


  • 1.   Tell the truth. People can handle the truth. It gives them certainty, and a foundation from which to work into the future.
  • 2.    Acknowledge people. Notice them, say hello. I recall a ‘celebrity’ academic reaching out his hand and introducing himself by first name to the conference sound technician before we shared a stage together. The three of us were now in this gig together. It was a powerful moment as the sound tech was grinning from ear to ear as he left the ‘green room’.
  • 3.   Explain your decisions. People may not always like your decisions, but when you show them that you have made a reasonable and fair decision, they will be more likely to find their own way to reach a consensus in time.


May this week be one of reducing fear in our workplaces, communities and around the world.