Leadership and Fear

While almost every school has “leadership development” as part of its mission, most of us struggle with how best to accomplish this important goal.  What’s sobering is the realization that, as with all virtues, leadership is caught as much as it is taught.

In order for leadership to flourish, those in charge have to create a culture where everyone feels safe enough to disagree. When teammates don’t feel comfortable enough to say, “Hey, let me push back here” or “There is another way we should look at this,” we run the risk of turning any committee or task force into a legion of lemmings.

I once worked for a boss who became visibly enraged after I said, “I respectfully disagree with this conclusion.” When he screamed, “There is no other way you could possible look at this issue!” I realized it was time for me to look for another means of employment.

Sometimes a culture of passivity can lead to terrible consequences. In “Crucial Conversations,” the authors tell this story:

“A woman checked into a hospital to have a tonsillectomy, and the surgical team erroneously removed a portion of her foot… Many health-care professionals are afraid to speak their minds. In this case, no less than seven people wondered why the surgeon was working on the foot but said nothing…”


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