July 14, 2018

Applying the Power-Fear Cultural Paradigm

Hierarchy is an inherently beautiful thing. Depending on what you are trying to achieve, it is beneficial and crucial for everything and everybody to be placed appropriately. So, power, in and of itself, can be something beautiful. Even fear, in and of itself—fear can be something beautiful.

And that inherent beauty and appropriateness can be argued from many, many different directions. Take, for example, a biological, hormonal, instinctive level—survival of the species. Fear is pivotal for human existence. Fear mechanisms—even the way adrenalin kicks in during a crisis—essentially help us to survive. It is important to recognize that there is nothing wrong with fear, in and of itself.

So, if the “fear factor” is to become part of the equation—good preliminary questions to ask when receiving or feeling fear would be: “Why is fear a factor here?” “What is its role in this situation?” “What should I do with fear in this case?”

If you are on the giving side of fear—it is crucial to hone your awareness of your own methods and root motivation. Test yourself to make sure you rightly handle fear mechanisms. For instance, when issuing a warning—like “This shouldn’t happen again,” or “Next time, make sure this is done in an appropriate manner”—do you recognize what your warning does to people? Do you recognize its effects on you? And what is the ultimate goal (or consequences) of bringing fear into the equation? Is your aim to be empowering others? To be life-giving? Or are you actually usurping power? Are you actually squelching people, taking strength and energy away from them?

Of course there might be situations where certain people ought to be severely restricted to allow for an opportunity to change their ways. An extreme example of that would be “If you don’t stop doing that, we will put you in jail.” Or, “If you don’t change your ways, we will have to terminate your job.” So there are definitely situations where a certain amount of fear, and acting to reinforce those warnings consistently, is negative but only superficially negative. There may be short-term, unpleasant consequences that could bring about long-term positive growth and development. The Power-Fear approach is necessary and helpful to spur what will eventually result in a life-giving and empowering situation for all involved.

Over time, I have also begun to grasp that power comes in so many packages, so many shapes and sizes! So, the power of either criticizing your colleagues, your friends, your family members—or, the power to affirm, to praise, to tell people, “Hey, that was fantastic! Job well done!”

The power of words, and the empowering or disempowering effects of words—that’s where Power-Fear plays a huge role. And especially as a leader, what you do with that is crucial. It is indubitably strategic.

Think of your words as Power-Fear tools. As a leader, my words have staggering weight. The onus is on me to mete out those weighty words carefully and to ask myself what I want to accomplish with them: “Am I empowering my team? Am I empowering this relationship with the words that I choose? Or am I disempowering people? Am I stealing life from them?”

There is a significant place for Power-Fear, although as I admitted, it was originally the most challenging Color of Worldview for me to embrace. Now I am starting to have fun playing with it and recognizing it for what it is as something neutral, something beautiful that we need to learn to navigate, especially in global leadership, in team development, in corporate culture development, in the way policies are costructed, in the way contractual relationships are formed.

Even for learning development and consultancy companies and professional intercultural team coaches—there is a responsibility to navigate the advantages and potential pitfalls of Power-Fear as we engage with our clients. We must ask ourselves, “Are we truly life-giving? Are we truly empowering when we come alongside our clients for a season? Or are we creating a dependency with only one-way benefits? Is this a life-giving interaction for me as a service provider, or is it resulting in the client viewing me as a crutch?”

We must remember we are building a culture together. Empowering your team to create culture together—that is amazing! The same is true of the power to innovate, the power to cultivate an environment where innovation can bloom—not much compares! If we learn to value and master the right use of Power-Fear, the process and its end results can be extremely empowering and life-giving for everyone involved.

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