Busting Through the Fear Barrier

Alex Pollock

The innate human drive to defend our territory can make us do strange things. At work, this instinct may compel us to protect the things we feel we’re entitled to, such as salary, headcount, budget, responsibilities, etc.

But imagine what it would be like to belong to an organization where people worked seamlessly together; where leaders collaborated, rather than competed, with one another to achieve their individual agendas?

In his book, “Breaking the Fear Barrier: How Fear Destroys Companies from the Inside Out and What to Do About It,” author Tom Rieger explains that the impediments to this kind of organizational utopia are rooted in fear. Fear creates barriers, he says, which manifest themselves inside companies as bureaucracy, organizational inefficiency and inertia. The top three barriers Rieger says we must overcome are:

  1. Parochialism: This is the domination of local needs. Standards within a function take precedence over creating engaged customers and business success.
  2. Territorialism: Some examples of territorialism in the workplace are hoarding headcounts, resources or decision-making authority.
  3. Empire Building: Assertion of control over other functions and resources to gain enhanced influence are symptoms of empire building.

The following is a list of the advice he offered that I found particularly useful for busting through these barriers.

  • Eliminate rules that prevent more than they protect
  • Purge administrative tasks that prevent employees from tackling mission-critical work
  • Give people the freedom to make decisions, access information and resources, and encourage them to innovate and demonstrate moral courage
  • The decision of whom to grant ownership or control should be based upon improving financial performance, improving the workplace, strengthening customer relationships, limiting liability and avoiding catastrophic failure

What forms of parochialism, territorialism and empire building have frustrated you in your work? What barrier busters have you effectively deployed?  Any you need help with?

About Alex Pollock

Alex Pollock has been studying leadership effectiveness for more than 30 years. A former leader in environment, health and safety, and public affairs at The Dow Chemical Co., he learned that we all have leadership roles to play. He enjoys discussing new ideas and sharing practical ways we can all become better leaders.

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