A little bit of fear goes a long way. It is priceless when you’re in an immediate life-threatening situation. Beyond that, fear is a huge impediment to living, to learning and to creating. And if a construction company has a culture of fear, it’s usually because of its leadership.

Fear of Mistakes

In any construction business there is one fear that is reinforced a lot and it signals a culture of fear. It’s the fear of making a mistake. People in construction deal with large events that threaten lives and cost a lot of money. So, when mistakes happen the entire system is focused first on finding out WHO to blame, and second on why the mistake was made and how to fix it to prevent further mistakes of the same kind.

Some Risks are Good

This culture of fear is an ingrained part of many construction businesses. So much so, that people avoid trying new things and taking well-thought-out chances that could net some long-term benefits. There is a big difference between taking calculated risks and just taking risks. But in the end, if no one is taking any chances, of any size, then the business is stagnating and probably repeating the same inefficient or even self-defeating practices over and over.

The Human Cost

Getting a culture of fear to turn around and operate from a position of confidence, takes some doing. After all, people are not trusting themselves, and are probably relying on just a few people, or even just one person to do all the thinking.

I witnessed a prime example of this recently. While on the phone with a senior manager, our conversation was routinely interrupted as he fielded questions from, and barked orders to subordinates. I wondered how the business managed to operate if he was sick, or wanted to take a day off. But more disheartening was the realization that there were probably at least a few people there who lived with the implied feedback every day that they were less than competent, and not trusted to make even basic decisions related to their jobs.

The Solution

Some managers shouldn’t be managing at all, and that’s the first place you have to make changes if you are going to get people to start thinking for themselves, and begin throwing off the mantle of fear. Managers that have every decision elevated to their level are dooming the business to only the narrow results of one person’s abilities and imagination. Worse yet, they are keeping the business grounded in a culture of fear, and robbing subordinates of opportunities for more meaning in their work lives. In the end, they are robbing the business of what should be its lifeblood, the creative energies of all its people.

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