There’s a lot to be afraid of in business these days: Is your company resilient enough to weather another downturn? Are your employees motivated and properly trained on tools like generative AI, so your data infrastructure doesn’t get compromised? Are you lagging behind your competitors in achieving digital transformation? We’re not sure what they’re afraid of exactly, but new research finds that about a third of emerging corporate leaders in the U.S. are primarily motivated by fear—which is creating work environments that cost the economy $36 billion annually in lost productivity.
The Love Leadership Survey of nearly 2,500 respondents, commissioned by executive leader, author and speaker Margot Faraci and conducted by research and analytics firm First & First Consulting, determined that 36 percent of leaders under 55 years old, roughly 1.3 million in total, were found to be leading through fear.
What does that mean precisely?
Fear-based leaders are those who responded in the survey that they either always or often experienced anxiety, micromanagement, imposter syndrome, anger, unwillingness to receive feedback, hesitancy to speak up, complacency and quiet quitting. These leaders lose 10 hours a week in productivity for their companies, equivalent to $28,750 a year per leader, or $36 billion annually.
“These findings are enormously consequential for global businesses,” said Faraci, who brings 20 years of experience in leadership management in high-pressure industries like financial services and tech, in a news release. “An entire generation of leaders is creating a workplace culture marred by systemic fear and this culture is causing a massive loss of productivity, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. To break this toxic cycle, we need leaders to turn away from fear and embrace courage, honest communication and compassion.”
Highlighting the extent to which fear-based leaders have a negative impact on their workplaces, the study also found that:
- 90 percent of fear-based leaders reported witnessing a decline in employee productivity.
- Nearly 40 percent strongly believe that stress can be positively harnessed.
- Almost 50 percent of fearful leaders noticed a drop in performance from their, while nearly 60 percent acknowledged their direct reports are “unhappy with their job.”
But on the bright side (more recessed than fluorescent), the survey points to promising opportunities to reverse this trend, with eight out of 10 leaders having a positive view of compassion and vulnerability in the workplace.
Faraci architected the study, which targeted managers ages 24 through 54, working in corporate offices with 500+ employees across the U.S., UK and Australia. The study was conducted through Pollfish and captured 2,486 responses from August 25 through September 13, 2023.