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Investor's Business Daily - October 2000

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Leader's & Success

IBD's 10 Secrets To Success

By Cord Cooper

Investor's Business Daily has spent years analyzing leaders and successful people in all walks of life. Most have 10 traits that, when combined, can turn dreams into reality. Each day, we highlight one.

No person is an island. Learn to understand and motivate others.

9. Fears That Hamper Productivity

Sometimes without knowing it, leaders can cause apprehension or fear among employees, causing a work culture whose unwritten law is "Play it safe." Employees avoid taking risks or speaking out.

"Minimizing fear is a bottom-up, top-down and across-the-organization process," management coach Arthur Ciancutti wrote in the book, "Built on Trust: Gaining Competitive Advantage in Any Organization," to be published in November by Contemporary Publishing Group Inc.

Ciancutti heads the Learning Center, California-based business-research firm whose clients have included IBM Corp., Boeing Co. and Ford Aerospace.

Fear and uncertainty in the workplace have several causes, most of which hamper productivity and competitiveness, the authors say. Below are some of the more common causes.

"When someone is called on the carpet for voicing a disagreement, it almost always means that the agenda of the person doing the 'calling' has become more important than the team's agenda."

Limiting beliefs. Teams often develop negative beliefs about themselves without realizing it; those beliefs are often the result of subtle messages sent by leaders. Common limiting beliefs: "We've always done it this way." "We don't have the resources." "Top management doesn't support us." "You have to go along the get along."

Just as limited beliefs produce limited results, unlimited beliefs can produce unlimited benefits, the authors stress. "One of the reasons certain start-ups succeed where larger companies fail is that the people running the start-ups don't know their ideas are considered preposterous (and so they try them out without fear of failure)," Ciancutti said.

"These people often explain later that they were too ignorant to know their idea wouldn't work," the authors said.

Negative attitude toward risk. If a company's climate is risk-avers, risks are avoided by employees regardless of their possible benefits.

If sound risks are encouraged with risk-taking guidelines, an idea-rich environment often results, moving the company forward in sometimes unexpected ways. Team spirit is usually one of the first benefits.

"Sound risk acknowledges the possibility of failure, but is approached with an explicitly stated 'we are all in this together' team attitude," Ciancutti said.

Penalties for risks that fail. Sound risks can't be encouraged at the outset and punished when they fail. Team members shouldn't fear risk outcomes, the authors emphasize.

Discouragement of dissent. "Disagreements are a sign that creativity is operating—and the team will figure out very quickly whether or not the leader really wants to hear dissenting views," Ciancutti said.

Structural defects. "These include 'acting' positions such as 'acting president' and 'acting sales manager.' 'Acting' communicates reservations about the person playing the role, and it says that more change is coming—possibly accompanied by further disruption. The team keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, and this lack of certainty is a breeding ground for fear" and apprehension, they said.

Other structural defects include leadership positions that are left unfilled for extended periods, changes in leadership without explanation, people given extra leadership roles they don't have time to fill, and "'watchdog' positions whose sole purpose is to observe and critique other," Ciancutti said.

When leadership positions change suddenly or are left open, management should keep communication lines open with everyone concerned, the author says.

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