High Performers in a Fear-Based Culture

Ripples in WaterSo what do you do if you’re a high performer who wants to remain in an organization that has a controlling, fear-based boss?


Remain calm. Bullies create uncomfortable situations in order to get want they want. They manipulate others through emotion. So don’t show any. Extinction is the psychological term for disconfirming a person’s unfavorable behavior by ignoring it. Ignore it and eventually the behavior lessens because it does not produce the results they were looking for. They are used to people reacting to their bullying which is why they continue the pattern. The first step in limiting their behavior is by refusing to be in reaction to it.


Don’t react. Respond. Controlling your own emotional impulse does not mean you do nothing. A calm assertive response to inappropriate behavior can go a long way. One young manager told me how he responded to his new bully-boss. After a tirade, the young high performer told his boss that he had never worked in an environment that used fear in order to get employees to perform and wondered if his boss intentionally used fear as a motivator, or if he was unaware of how he treated people. A bit off-guard, the boss laughed, said my friend sounded a bit like his wife, then completely changed the temperature of the conversation. The boss was more reasonable after that. He appreciated the calm assertiveness of the young high performer. He still had is anger issues, but treated my friend differently after that. Within the year the boss was transferred. My young friend told me how glad he was that he found the assertiveness to be direct with his boss, and did not just leave. He has worked for the same company for nearly five years now and can’t imagine being anyplace else.


High performers like to work for organizations worth fighting for. They understand that a bully is not an effective leader, no matter what level, and that fear-based motivation is not effective.  They understand that an uncomfortable conversation with HR or the bully’s boss can pay off with huge benefits. High performing employees understand that a healthy, productive, and profitable organization benefits everyone. They are more focused on ensuring the organization is strong enough to allow all the employees to flourish. Self-centered, fear-based people do just the opposite. Their primary concern is their own careers.

High performers don’t react to fear. They respond with assertive calm by taking responsibility for a healthy work environment.