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July 29, 2010


David M. Kasprzak

Good post! This reminds me of another of my favorite fear-generating techniques: randomly change people's assignments and/or titles at irregular intervals. be sure to do it before anyone actually completely understand their new rle, however, or they'll start to think you're doing some useful cross-training. Instead, perform haphazzard shuffles in order to prevent expertise from breaking out. This will give everyone a sense that they can be dismissed easily since they're not fully capable of doing any job, anywhere in the organization.

Hsuan-hua Chang

Curve based performance rating! That creates a fear based culture when you know you are comparing against your peers.


Random layoffs and furloughs are two of my favorites. Joking about a site being "too expensive" is a close third.

Scott Eblin

Some great additions to the list, folks. (Great meaning true and authentic, not great practices.) It's pretty sad, actually, that we can come up with so many good examples of how to create a fear based culture. Any thoughts on why, as human beings, we are so prone to act this way?

Liz Tucker

Here's another one:

Issue clear and detailed instructions about how you want a project done, then when that doesn't work, deny entirely it was your idea.


12. When you screw up, make your staff call the client and apologize. Make sure they tell the client it was their mistake. In fact, you should tell your staff it was their mistake so you can make sure they get the story right before they fix the problem.

13. Refuse to do anything that's actually assigned to you - especially if it will impact your staff's ability to be successful on a project. Then, when they ask you how it's coming along, get defensive and evasive but never answer the question. Later, when it becomes clear that execution went completely awry, explain to your staff your own personal version of Adaptability and how they lack it.

As far as why people act this way, it's pure laziness. It's much easier to yell and blame and be random than it is to grow and learn and plan. The latter requires effort ;)

Stu Morgan

Publicly humiliate those who are struggling to meet their goals, but don't recognize top achievers.

Jim M.

In response to Mr. Ebling's query as to why humans create a fear-based culture is reflected in a Peter Principle (1970's) equation for office security = I(3) J(5), in that I = as Incompetent one is for performing a task, the more Jealousy directed to someone else doing it better; someone was promoted to a Level of Incompetence.


After 5 years tell an employee their position is an experiment and then take away all tools that were helping them to be successful

Joseph Mullin

The sad part of this post is it is based on actual people and events.
That isn't leadership it is management. Poor at that.


When you are missing in the office, always tell employees that you were in offsite meeting with the top guns and discussing strategy/future, concerns around company not meeting goals etc...



Regarding your question "It's pretty sad, actually, that we can come up with so many good examples ... Any thoughts on why, as human beings, we are so prone to act this way?"

The Germans have a word for it, "Schadenfreude," pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Especially in the current US culture -- we just seem to enjoy building 'em up -- then knocking 'em down.

If broken down to the most primitive level, perhaps it's simply the human characteristic of envy.



Discourage new hires from asking too many questions or asking for support early on, because "you believe in letting people think on their feet and learn by figuring it out on their own."

Advocating that employees should be resourceful and think on their feet is one thing. Scaring them away from asking questions and for the necessary support to succeed is another.


1. Give your subordinates personal lessons on how to talk over whoever is on the other end of the phone so the calling party cannot get a word in edgewise. When the caller is finally totally frustrated, mute the phone and snicker in glee. 2. Blame your "pet subordinate's" errors on your other employees and then console the latter by saying no one is perfect. 3. Keep your employees late in biweekly three-hour long staff meetings so you can keep tabs on every little thing they are doing. 4. Scream at employees to show you are serious about the topic. 5. Escort crying subordinates out a side exit so others cannot see them after you have eviscerated another soul.


- Show up late to meetings or don't show up at all. Keep 'em guessing and make sure it's clear that your time is more valuable then theirs.

Erica McClenny

-Remind employees often that you're tracking their emails and online activities.

Facebook or Twitter spot check at anytime...

Scott Eblin

Thanks for all of the additional fear inducing rules everyone. On the one hand, I'm happy to get them. On the other hand, I'm sad because I have the feeling that you've lived through the behaviors you've written about.

I hope Scott Adams is reading this comment stream as there is at least a couple of months worth of material for Dilbert in all of this.

Cheers -


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