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  • Jo Chapman

On the other side of Trust.... Fear & Control

Whilst preparing for a panel discussion on hybrid working, one thing that really struck me was Trust and the role that plays in flexibility and remote working. My initial thinking was building trust across an organisation – how can you build trust, and specifically how do leaders learn to trust their teams? This led me to dig a little deeper in terms of why leaders may not trust their teams and how an often-challenging balance within leadership involves the delicate interplay between fear, control, and trust. That relationship between fear and control, stemming from the inherent fears that many leaders grapple and the impact of unacknowledged fear on team dynamics, trust and ultimately performance.

The Comfort of Control


At the core of our human experience, the desire for control is deeply ingrained. When we feel in control, a sense of strength, power, and relaxation envelops us.

Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist, in "Self-efficacy: The exercise of control," explores how control brings about a sense of strength and power. Bandura notes, "People who believe they have the power to exercise some measure of control over their lives are healthier, more effective, and more successful than those who lack faith in their ability to effect changes."

So, some element of control is a good thing right – control allows us to make choices.


The predictability that control brings provides a comforting foundation, creating a stable platform in an often-unpredictable world. However, when control (in an organisational context) transforms into micromanagement, it becomes a coping mechanism to deal with an underlying fear. This fear, as Deci & Ryan suggest in their book "Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behaviour," reflects a lack of trust – a belief that others may not have our best interests at heart or that we need to protect ourselves in some way from the ramifications that loss (or perceived loss) of control could bring. Managers are often promoted to leadership roles because they are in control, because they have the answers and because they can manage tasks effectively, they've been rewarded for that throughout their careers.

Leaders’ fears


In a Forbes article last year, they drew a comparision to the Lion King


“Simba from Disney’s The Lion King courageously standing on Pride Rock is the kind of image people often associate with leaders. But even Simba had his fears, which he overcame to take the throne back from Scar. Like Simba, leaders are not immune to fear. Be it fear of the unknown, fear of criticism or fear of failure, leaders struggle with this powerful emotion, too. At times, it can be strong enough to hold them back from achieving their full potential and leading effectively.”

According to Forbes common fears among leaders include:

  • Being found incompetent (also known as imposter syndrome)

  • Underachieving

  • Colleagues attacking them politically

  • Appearing too vulnerable

  • Appearing foolish

Understanding these fears, I believe, is essential to unravelling the intricacies of the relationship between fear, control, and trust.


Leaders, as architects of organisational culture, stand at the crossroads of a crucial decision – the choice between control and trust, and in the context of leadership, how does the often unconscious quest for control to allay fears, impact the fabric of trust within an organisation?


"Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships." Stephen R. Covey

Impact of Unconscious Fear


When leaders fail to acknowledge and address internal fears, there can be profound consequences across the entire organisation. Unacknowledged fear not only undermines trust but also has a ripple effect on team dynamics.

Leaders who either project their fears onto their teams or rely on control to allay those fears, create an atmosphere of tension and apprehension, stifling open communication and collaboration, ultimately really pissing people off! 


Fear, when not recognised and managed, disrupts psychological safety and stifles open communication and collaboration.

The Power of the Self-Aware Leaders


In the face of fear, self-awareness emerges as a powerful antidote - a pivotal component of leadership. Leaders who possess the ability to recognise and understand their own emotions are better equipped to navigate the often complex terrain of leadership. Leading with courage, is not about the absence of fear but the willingness to act in spite of it. By fostering self-awareness, leaders can cultivate a culture of trust and transparency within their organisations.


A deep understanding of one’s own identity must be the emphasis of any leader’s development journey.

In summary:


It’s evident that acknowledging and addressing fear is paramount for building and maintaining trust within organisations.


Leaders, as the architects of organisational culture, play a pivotal role in determining whether control or trust takes precedence. The choices made by leaders shape the emotional climate of the workplace.


Leaders who prioritise self-awareness, confront their fears, and lead with courage, create an environment where trust can flourish both ways. In the ever-evolving landscape of leadership, embracing the interplay between fear and trust is not a sign of weakness but a testament to the resilience and authenticity of effective leaders.


A question for you to be curious about...

What are you or your leaders afraid of?


If you’d like to talk more about Leadership, self-awareness or anything like that – drop us a line and we can chat




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