Leadership by Fear – A Case Study

One of our favourite quotes exploring leadership is “leaders are the building’s architects, managers build the building”. As the architect of your business what behavioural options do you have to lead, motivate and actively engage your people?

For us at Corporate Drama the recent Brexit debate and referendum has produced some intriguing and revealing leadership behaviours (and we don’t mean role-model here). It’s also highlighted the significant cost of deploying them. There are many valuable leadership lessons in the Brexit story. We suggest many of these should be heeded to ensure you don’t make the same leadership mistakes in your business.

If we look at the Brexit story – the behaviour we observed frequently was to lead by creating and communicating a message and vision based on fear. “Do this thing or something really terrible will happen to you”. This was consistently used by the Remain campaign (although not exclusively) and at Corporate Drama we weren’t surprised by the electorate’s reaction to the way these messages were communicated.


When, as leaders we use a coercive (threatening) style of leadership we are tapping directly into our people’s emotions. Our people respond emotionally because this leadership behaviour connects directly to the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ hard-wiring in people’s DNA. Your people will either comply or challenge or simply be paralyzed; not knowing what to do.

This style of leadership often epitomized as the command and control style (aka JFDI). In the appropriate situation it can be very effective. Directive communication and the clear description of the impact of not following clear direction does have a place in business. Our question is: does it need to be there all the time? Are there other, more effective leadership behaviours you can confidently and authentically use instead? Leadership behaviours, which build active engagement and productivity in your people. A flexible, yet authentic leadership approach. Many of our leadership programme participants want to develop this confident leadership style.

Back to Brexit and a Remain campaign, which deployed a series of coercive communication strategies. We believe this could have significantly reduced the levels of engagement in the electorate. When considering change people want to be positively motivated and engaged into action, not bombarded with negative consequence messages. It’s the same with the people in your organisation when they need effective leadership to successfully engage and navigate change.

Emotionally Intelligent (EQ) leaders are those who not only understand their own motivations and behaviours (what makes them tick) they also understand what makes their people tick too. Then they build trust through their behaviour

  • EQ leaders understand their own strengths and how best to leverage them
  • They also understand when and how they over-play these strengths
  • They understand what motivates their people and they communicate in a way which tangibly resonates with their people’s preferences
  • They understand what the conflict triggers are for their people and they skillfully avoid escalating conflict
  • They are confidently assertive
  • They successfully lead and manage these relationships by confidently engaging their emotional intelligence
  • They develop a flexible authentic and dynamic brand of leadership which aligns with their values and mission

If you’d like to learn how to develop your organisation’s leaders so that they’re more Branson than Brexit, give us a call on 0208 088 2600 or email us at [email protected]

And if you’re looking for more inspiration, download our 12 Leadership Secrets pdf, just click on the link below for your FREE copy.

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