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Boss vs. Leader: Leading with Fear vs. Love

Top image is a leader and his group pulling a ball of love. The bottom image is a boss telling his crew to pull a ball of fear.

Boss vs. Leader: Leading with Fear vs.  Love

By shifting from fear to love, leaders can transform organizations into places of limitless potential and growth. Learn more about the foundational values that allow love in!

Boss vs. Leader: is fear really a motivator?

While conventional (and let’s be honest, old school) wisdom suggests that fear is a powerful motivator, it is certainly not a sustainable one. Fear-based management styles lead to low self-esteem and morale, increases stress, and leaves no room for creative problem solving among teams. 

The sad reality is that most traditional organizations are steeped in fear. Before we knew better, silence and obedience signaled that employees “knew their place” in the hierarchy. Today, we understand that when fear is woven into an organization’s fabric, the workplace is likely toxic and not performing at its highest potential.

While these tactics might lead to temporary motivation (as in, oh crap – I need to nail this project or I’m going to be fired!), it is ultimately an immobilizer. Consider the old adage, “one step forward, three steps back,” – that is what happens to an organization that leads with fear.

Top Signs of a Fear-Based Workplace

If you’re wondering if your own organization has a fear-based motivation problem, consider these ten indicators:

A graphic list of the words in bold below.


  1. Truth: People are afraid to tell the truth.
  2. Gossip: The rumor mill is often more credible than official communications.
  3. Public Humiliation: Managers publicly discredit and shame employees in front of their peers to “send a message” to a larger group and improve motivation.
  4. Blame: There is always someone to blame.
  5. “Yes, Boss:” People say yes to their bosses because they know that’s what gets rewarded, even if it’s not good for the business.
  6. Appearances: People become more concerned with how something looks than its results. For example, they might say, “I can’t leave until my boss leaves,” regardless of whether they have to do more work.
  7. On or Off the Island: People are constantly talking about who is “in” and who is “out” at the moment. This is an unhealthy preoccupation with status and political capital. 
  8. Policy Proliferation: Policy lists grow immense in size and matter more than common sense.
  9. Secrecy: Information is hoarded for the sake of power and used to maintain control.
  10. Silence: An unwillingness to voice concerns or ideas for fear of what might happen.

Boss vs. Leader: The Four Cs

To move past fear, organizations must move toward love. Love in the workplace – it sounds a bit strange, right? But when you begin to understand that love is the root source for all positive change, you’ll learn to let it flow naturally. To better understand how you can incorporate “Love in Action” in the workplace, I’ve created a framework I call the foundational “Four Cs” – care, candor, connection, and change.


Leading from love requires engaging people’s hearts – not just their heads. What does this mean? It’s pretty simple. Executives who excel at leadership genuinely care about their team and allow them to bring their full selves into work. They provide them with opportunities to actively fuel their growth every day. When employees feel they have a leader they can depend on as a sounding board and a rock in the face of uncertainty, trust builds and teams thrive.

Bringing care into the workplace is rare because we are often taught to keep a safe distance from people – to be “rugged individuals” and not trust others. But this thinking is backward. The more a leader is there for their team, the more employees are willing to act independently and confidently, even in the toughest times.


Giving honest feedback to employees (or anyone in your life) is scary, but honing the skill is crucial to a thriving business. When we give direct and difficult feedback well, we give that person a powerful gift. Kim Scott, a highly sought-after CEO coach, calls this “radical candor.” She writes that this feedback must be kind, clear, specific, and sincere to successfully get through to an employee. When an employee knows the message comes from a place of care and love they can absorb the message and apply it to areas in need of improvement. Similarly, they feel safe to make their voices heard with a sense of freedom. Care and candor must co-exist to be successful. 


Building on care and candor, connection is what brings us together as humans beings in the workplace. To create connection, a leader must provide emotional support to their employees. Doing so creates an environment that is trustworthy and psychologically safe, and in turn, employees can bring their whole selves to work. This gives them the freedom to drum up new ideas, take risks, and contribute to the growth and success of a business.


Change: even the thought of it can cause chaos among organizations. Most people don’t like change because it either feels out of their control or too big of a mountain to move. For change to occur, leadership must understand that the change management practices of the past – command and control, hoarding information, secrecy, and micromanaging no longer work. 

When leaders want to change their organization, they first must understand they need to change themselves. This means challenging deep-seated assumptions and beliefs and embracing emotions as valid and critical clues in guiding growth. 


So how do you go from a boss to a leader?

By embracing the four C’s, you begin to create the conditions for becoming an evolved executive. An executive or entrepreneur who wants to embody benevolent leadership must recognize that all change begins from within. 

Are you curious where you land on the spectrum of leading from fear or love? If so, we’ve created a robust assessment called the “Growth Leader Index.” You’ll receive a custom report on your ability to lead with these “Four Cs” and readiness to move through transformational change. Take a look!

Growth Leader Index