• April 2013

Why Having a Higher Purpose Trumps Fear Every Time

By Lisa Earle McLeod
Keynote Speaker and Author
McLeod & More, Inc.

A sales training video I saw a while back opened with a manager saying, “Sales is all about fear. The salespeople are afraid the customers won’t buy, and the customers are afraid they will buy.”

Sadly, the sentiment rings true in many professions. If you’ve ever found yourself staring down the short end of a bad revenue report, or an impossible production schedule, or a month with more bills than money, you know what I mean.

I work with salespeople and executives. Despite their seemingly confident exterior personas, many of them live in constant fear.

Some organizations (and bosses) believe that fear is a good motivator. But this belief, like so many others we have about work, is misguided. Sure, fear can be a motivator, but it’s certainly not a very effective one.

Two of the pillars that support the concept of Conscious Capitalism—higher purpose, and conscious culture and management—make it clear why instilling fear is actually counterproductive to spurring sustainable employee productivity.

Fear works in the short-term.

It can kick-start someone into action, but fear is not a sustainable source of motivation. An employee motivated by fear will frantically fly around with lots of activity, but then one of two things happens: that person either flames out, or the activity propels him or her to some level of success. Then the fear subsides, and the rep goes back to doing what he or she always did, leaving you with mid-level performance at best.

Fear distracts employees from their higher purpose.

For example, here’s a situation I frequently encounter in my work with sales organizations:

Imagine Joe, a salesperson who is afraid of not making quota. His boss is all over him about the numbers. When the boss goes with him on sales calls, what do you think Joe Salesperson is thinking about? Is he thinking about how he can help the customer? Probably not—more likely he’s thinking about his boss.

He’s wondering, “How does my boss think I’m doing? Am I going to get fired?”

When you’re afraid of the boss, it messes with your internal “talk track.” Instead of being fully present for the situation you’re in, you have two talk tracks going at the same time. One is about what’s happening in the moment. But the other talk track, the louder one, is worry and angst about the boss.

Which internal talk track do you think results in better performance? Focusing on the situation in front of you, or worrying about the boss?

If you guessed focusing on the situation in front of you, you’re right. My workplace research, along with several other studies, have demonstrated that fear has a chilling effect on performance, particularly for employees who interact with customers.

You don’t make good decisions when you’re afraid. You tend to focus on the short-term, and you don’t come from a place of confidence.

A leader’s job is to take fear off the table.

The most effective way to quell fear is to infuse people with a common sense of purpose.

Whether it’s improving life for customers, or making the world a better place for everyone, when people have a larger purpose than just trying to keep their jobs, they’re more focused, and more effective. They’re also more likely to act in a bold and courageous manner.

Instead of telling people they’re going to get fired if they don’t perform, it’s far more powerful (and effective) to tell them how much their performance matters to others.

Higher purpose—it trumps fear every time.


About Lisa Earle McLeod

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies such as Apple, Kimberly-Clark, and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces. Her newest book, “Selling with Noble Purpose,” hit #2 on CEO READ’s business book bestseller list in December 2012. She is also the author of The Triangle of Truth, which The Washington Post named a “Top Five Book for Leaders.” She has appeared on “Today,” and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. McLeod provides executive coaching sessions, strategy workshops, and keynote speeches. Click here to learn more: www.lisaearlemcleod.com.