Bad leadership is frightening and formative for those who suffer it. Good leadership makes use of fear in a completely different way.

There are monsters out there. Every leader has a story about working for a bad leader. Good leaders use these experiences as a touchstone for how NOT to behave as a leader. They usually describe a breed of alpha male (or, occasionally, female) driving a culture of fear:

For good leaders, there is a use of fear that is the complete opposite. Instead, fear is a vital, energizing wellspring of leadership thinking and creativity. A CEO we know calls this type of fear ‘tremble moments’. A tremble moment, he says, is ‘sitting in my car, not knowing what awaits me at the office, not knowing what’s coming next – I like that very much. I know I’ll be able to figure out how to find an answer with the team. I won’t to be the one making final decisions.’

He looks for tremble moments when he hires people. He reads CVs then puts them aside to focus on the moment they walk through the door. He asks himself, ‘do I get an instant perception of quality? Then, I ask myself the same question ten minutes later. If it’s a ‘yes’, I’ll ask, ‘what was the last book you read? Why did you like it?’ I look for that special something, animation, passion, light in their eyes. I especially look for ethics.’ He prioritises such tremble-causing qualities above skills and qualifications.

Leaders often describe the moments in their careers when they learned the most as feeling like they were jumping off a cliff. At each major turning-point they take their teams with them into intense pressure and uncertainty and learn a huge amount. This is emotional leadership of the most profound and effective kind.

Bad leadership makes other people tremble. Good leadership makes use of the leader’s own trembles.

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash.