Leading with fear isn’t strong, it’s just lazy

Ever had a boss that led via fear? Damian Marwood, Herd MSL general manager (corporate), writes that this tactic is just a sign of lazy management - and should be dealt with as such.

I have had some brilliant leaders throughout my 15 year career. I’ve also had some truly horrible ones.

The horrible ones have all shared one trait, laziness. Not so much laziness in their own work or work ethic, but certainly a laziness in their approach to leadership.

Now, let me firstly say that I’m extremely proud of the workplace that I work at and of our leadership team.

But that is not to say I have not dealt with or seen, or heard about leaders who ruled by fear. You know, the ones that are most comfortable operating in an environment of broad anxiety. They believe that creating an atmosphere of fear and of the all-powerful-leader drives a high-performing culture that delivers exceptional results.

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that having a toxic company culture is the number one reason employees will say “take this job and shove it”, as outlined in a recent Forbes article ‘The Top 5 Reasons Workers Want To Quit Their Jobs’.

Ruling by fear is unquestionably the laziest approach to leadership.

It’s easy as a leader to ship the anxiety they  feel running a business downstream.

It’s easy as a leader to lose their cool when despite the best intentions, results may have not lived up to expectation.

It’s easy as a leader to use a job title to suggest that any failings are the fault of other team members, and not take responsibility.

It’s easy as a leader to forget that the reason the quality of work may not have met the mark wasn’t because it was completed by an employee with half the experience.

It’s easy as a leader to use a job title to intimidate team members to take on additional work when you know they are already stretched.

These things are all easy to do as a leader. Easy and lazy. They are the leaders who refused to invest the time needed to understand and unearth the true potential of individual team members.

Building a cohesive team that accommodates the diverse skills and needs of each team member is hard. Creating mechanisms whereby separate stakeholders with different interests align is hard. Showing empathy and support when you’re having a rough day is hard. Creating a culture that balances an empathetic approach whilst maintaining a resolute focus on delivering exceptional results is hard.

Balancing a matrix of internal and external relationships, driving revenue growth, and creating a culture that truly makes the office a great place to work is all hard.

Leadership is hard, but hold the tissue box. Leaders are also compensated to overcome these challenges, not to be lazy.

I’m fortunate that mine is a workplace that has done the hard yards to build a truly empathetic culture and truly appreciates that empathetic leadership does not come at the cost of delivering high-quality work – it in fact creates better results.

We’ve achieved this by pursuing a strengths-based culture underpinned by  global analytics and advice firm Gallup’s Clifton Strengths, and supported through professional coaching.


We have redefined our values to ensure they truly underpin who we strive to be and are not just a collection of nice phrases on a wall.

We host honest and very raw ‘Fearless Conversations’ where our senior staff speak about real issues they’ve faced such as battling mental health, dealing with imposter syndrome and balancing challenging relationships, and how they have overcome those issues.

It is a workplace that understands that diversity is the glue that binds a team, not a separating force.

It is a workplace that understands the positive impact of focusing on individuals’ strengths rather than a relentless focus on their weaknesses.

It is a culture that encourages team members to show up fearless, to be curious about the world, to go home feeling proud of achievements big or small, and more than anything it is a culture that emphasises the importance of being kind to each other.

The result of the hard work put in is the creation of a workplace that unifies everyone to take on whatever challenges present and to deliver award-winning work.

2023 promises to be a year that presents a myriad of challenges for leaders. The threat of recession is present. Inflation and cost of living pressures are high. A skills shortage is being felt across industry with the unemployment rate stubbornly low. These challenges however do not validate an excuse to lead with fear.



Damian Marwood, Herd MSL General Manager (Corporate)


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