Is fear stifling your employees’ creativity?

No one likes a bad boss. Anyone who has ever had to deal with an abusive, manipulative leader will be all too aware of the impact they can have on their colleagues' engagement, morale and self-esteem.

However, new research from one of Australia's top universities suggests that managers who instil fear in their employees can bring much wider consequences to their organisation. In fact, such leaders could be stunting the creative growth of their company.

The study, conducted by the University of New South Wales' Australian School of Business, found that there's a high chance that employees who fear their boss are less creative. On the other side of the coin, those who are regularly rewarded and exposed to new opportunities are likely to be more creative at work.

PhD student Benjamin Walker, lead author of the study, said the findings could have “major implications” for business leaders.

“Office managers could certainly harness the creativity of people who are inclined toward creativity by working with them to set goals which have achievable rewards, and offer them new experiences,” he explained.

He also urged leaders to consider the effect that fear and anxiety can have on employee creativity. Threats of reprimands or losing their job are certainly not helping them to realise their creative potential, he said.

“While these fear tactics may get employees to work harder, in situations of fear the employees may be less able to generate higher quality work that involves creativity. To facilitate creativity, organisations need to help employees be relaxed and stay in a positive mood rather than working under conditions of fear.”

Businesses today have to constantly innovate to adapt to changing environments and survive. It is therefore important that your organisation identifies those with the high potential leadership skills to banish fear and drive creativity in the workplace.

There's no place for a bad boss

As contemporary businesses strive for innovative and creative excellence, there is simply no room for bad leaders to hold back their efforts for growth.

In fact, according to Hogan Assessments' '5 Ways to Manage Creativity and Drive Innovation' report, one of the first things an organisation should do to encourage creativity is to “give bad managers the boot”.

The report explains that poor management is behind every factor that adversely affects creativity. The creativity-inducing managers are the ones that can “build and maintain productive relationships” with creative types, set clear expectations and give constructive feedback.

If a manager doesn't possess any of these attributes – and instead relies on fear to push the performance of their employees – it's highly unlikely they'll be getting the creative best out of them.

Personality is key to frontline leadership

Is a bad leader's incompetence down to a lack of skills and training, or their intrinsic personality?

It's likely to be a combination of both. However, according to the 'Bad Managers' white paper from Hogan Assessments, a thorough personality assessment can help determine whether or not a potential leader will resort to poor strategies, such as fear tactics.

The white paper outlines poor management of social and emotional behaviour as one of the warning signs of an ineffective leader. This highlights the increasing awareness that emotional intelligence is becoming one of the key skills required by today's leaders – if a leader is unable to take feedback on board and adapt to a wide range of individuals and scenarios, they're unlikely to succeed in their role. 

When you're selecting the next leaders to take over the reins at your organisation, it's important to get a holistic picture of them as a person before making your final decision. Analysing their personality traits, as well as their experience and their credentials, will help ensure you don't end up with a poor choice.