x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Rule by fear and see the resentment build

Workplace doctor: Our workplace doctor assesses the case of Mike Rice, the Rutgers University basketball coach who was fired for tormenting his players.

Mike Rice, coach of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, shouts instructions to his team against Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second round of the Big East Tournament. Al Bello / Getty Images / AFP
Mike Rice, coach of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, shouts instructions to his team against Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second round of the Big East Tournament. Al Bello / Getty Images / AFP

A Dear Workplace Doctor, Have you heard about the US college basketball coach who was fired from Rutgers University after a video showed him berating and abusing his players, even throwing balls at them from point-blank range? I was appalled, but wondered: why is fear such a common motivator in the workplace? And why, frankly, is it so often effective? KB, Al Ain


Hi KB, thanks for raising a flag against an appallingly authentic example of courtside coaching; after all authenticity is who or what we are when one feels no one is watching. Facades can last only for so long.

Perhaps that links to your thinking about workplaces, where many manager responsibilities can occur when nobody is watching. Fear achieves one state - separation or difference, resulting in inequity. The inequity will ensure that one party will gain at the expense of another, and is generally seen in the form of a negative power or a control that does not serve all equally. It may appear to get results, yet are those results going to last the moment the control is not present?

We saw the basketball coach use his position of power over players with an intention to coerce them into playing well, yet achieving entirely different results - common motivator or common de-motivator?

Motivation gets things moving in a positive direction and energised, not fearful reactions and unintended repercussions. How often have we seen a terrified waiter serving a table under a controlling restaurant manager, a secretary not daring to ask the MD for clarification or a corporation's MD not raising a flag to the board, each with disastrous implications?

Fear can be present in workplaces which:

• endorse an entitlement mindset, not a responsibility mindset;

• apply a production line approach to productivity, disrespecting the human factor;

• have no transparency or tangible measures of performance.

The effect of these factors influences each and every part of the day, from communications to task performance to development and even through to compensation. "Effectiveness of fear", an oxymoron in its own right, will perpetuate in disconnected workplaces. Yet never forget, as the author Michael Pritchard once wisely shared: Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.

Only when separateness can be turned into solidarity will fear no longer gain nourishment; this is currently visible in societies across the globe and equally applicable to workplaces. People wish for relative equities of opportunity, finance, speech, benefits and respect, to name just a few.

Should fear and inequity surround you, the following three suggestions may assist:


• Research the source of separation.

Where is it coming from? - yourself (perhaps unconsciously) or the other party? On which basis, and demonstrated with what evidence?


• Address the source of separation.

Be frank and open with expectations - if solidarity is what is sought, define what solidarity looks and feels like, with real examples that might apply in and benefit your workplace. Be clear on this information before sharing it with the source of separation. Don't allow the separation to stop you from addressing it - that will just provide whoever is doing the controlling with even more power.


• Lead the way through the separation.

Bringing broken parts together can be a struggle. Mobilise change and watch for reactions; surround yourself with solidarity ambassadors and form a new language. Set a time frame and decide what is and is not acceptable, and be prepared should the time come when the insecurities of others outweigh the common sense in solidarity.


The Doctor's Prescription

Build the future with your people and watch the results pour in.


Deb Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based Business En Motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor's advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague