Management by FEAR

By Paul Tocatlian.

Management by FEAR

I remember taking my first management class during freshman year in college. We learned about the evolution of management theory, strategic planning, operations management, organizing for stability and change, leadership, international management, and much more. For the most part, it sounded like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo that I wouldn’t get to practice for a while.

It wasn’t until a decade later that I got my first management job and had a chance to apply what I learned in college. By then, I had forgotten many of these valuable lessons. But nonetheless, I tried my best and enjoyed the new found responsibilities. Besides, there’s nothing like learning on the job, while seeing how it’s done in practice by some great mentors.

Over the years, I refined my management style with an emphasis on organizational effectiveness in challenging situations often found in rapidly changing environments. I call it “Management by FEAR.” Not in a strict sense where the manager makes decisions unilaterally and without much regard for others. But rather, FEAR as an acronym that stands for Focus, Empowerment, Accountability, and Reward.


“Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” John Carmack

Let’s start with focus. Focus is about finding the point of convergence on which to concentrate and direct your attention. Without focus, empowerment seldom yields meaningful results. Without focus, accountability is difficult to quantify. Without focus, reward may be hard to justify. Determining the right focus may be easier said than done. But it is a necessary first step that should be accorded particular attention. So what should you do? Clearly articulate and communicate your focus before setting the other wheels in motion. Without focus, you may enjoy the journey, but you are unlikely to reach your destination.


As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Bill Gates

As a manager, I sometimes live vicariously through my team members. I wish I had Bill Wagner‘s product management acumen, Jim Reynolds‘ strong process skills, Richard Pascual‘s eye for design, Stephen Kreyenbuhl‘s coding wizardry, Michael Bounnong‘s integration resolve, Reshma Vittal‘s commitment to quality, Jody Haynes‘ savviness in the cloud, and Doris Lok‘s choice of words. But I don’t. They all have come to be masters in their respective domains through thousands of hours of practice. As a manager, it is my responsibility to unleash their mastery and provide the tools and support necessary, while seeing that expectations are properly set.


With great power, comes great responsibility.” Spiderman

Managers should bear ultimate responsibility for the outcome of their projects. But equally important is to hold the team members bestowed with great powers answerable for accomplishing their goals and assignments. It has been my experience that a productive workplace requires every member of the team to feel accountable for his or her actions. It is through this shared sense of responsibility that the best results are often achieved, producing positive, valuable results. Managers should be able to delegate accountability while remaining accountable themselves.


The reward of a thing well done is having done it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

A reward can manifest itself in many forms, from a simple and genuine thank you to a Ferrari delivered to your front door. The expectation of a reward can also vary, from being communicated upfront to being a complete and utter surprise. Either way, the purpose of the reward is to recognize commendable behavior and results.

But isn’t the ultimate reward knowing that you have done the best work you are capable of doing and that your contributions are benefiting others? To this day, no fame nor fortune can compare to knowing that the software I wrote years ago still powers many financial, healthcare, telecom and transportation systems throughout the world.

To be Liked or to be Feared?


A recent Harvard Business Review study suggests that likable leaders are more effective. In fact, they found that only one in 2,000 leaders who were rated at the bottom quartile in terms of likability were in the top quartile regarding overall leadership effectiveness. The article also identifies seven key steps executives can take to increase their likeability substantially:

  • Increase positive emotional connections with others
  • Display rock solid integrity
  • Cooperate with others
  • Be a coach, mentor, and teacher
  • Be an inspiration
  • Be visionary and future focused
  • Ask for feedback and make an effort to change

I was once asked if, as a manager, it was better to be liked or to be feared. I didn’t have a definitive answer at the time as I thought the question was somewhat of a fallacy of false alternatives. But looking back, I would say that it is better to manage compassionately and instill FEAR, as in providing the right FocusEmpowering team members, holding them Accountable, and Rewarding accordingly.

Book Recommendations

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License by Paul Tocatlian.



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