Be a hope-based leader, not a fear-based one

Be a hope-based leader, not a fear-based one

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Not long ago, I observed a professor figuratively rip a student apart in front of a class. Actually, that student was me. And I recall during those minutes of that out-of-body experience a myriad of thoughts running through my head, such as, “Is this really happening? Is she really saying these things? What kind of coaching is this? Is this a bad dream? And aren’t we in education?”

But then, I also remember thinking, “Remember this feeling, Cynthia, and remember, remember, remember to never give feedback in this manner, no matter what.”

And even though I thought I had already known not to do this, perhaps I needed one more reminder (and I’m sure there will be more). Nonetheless, when I see a leader — of any kind — humiliate, especially in public, I think, “Oh, my, and why?” And, “Is this the best you can do?”


See, I’ve also taught — and still do — and when students or participants are off base on an assignment or exercise, I work to find a way to provide feedback that will hopefully motivate change by creating an emotional connection where they are inspired to make something better and stronger. This type of coaching is called “hope-based” as opposed to “fear-based,” as in the above vignette. It falls under a fairly new framework called Positive Organizational Scholarships.

According to William J. Rothwell, author of "The Manager’s Guide to Maximizing Employee Potential," "How managers act … can and does affect the talent of the organization. Talented people will not flourish in an environment that does not encourage them, and they will not grow when their managers take them for granted, don’t challenge them, or have a low regard for them."

But there are people, for whatever reason, who want you to fail. Yup, they are everywhere. And it could be for the stupidest and most ridiculous reasons (usually are), such as you are better looking, you are skinnier, more talented and so on and so forth. Like I said, stupid and ridiculous. Truly, I can’t think of any reason to humiliate through fear-based coaching, can you?

Authors Frank Belschak and Deanne Den Hartog wrote in their article,"Consequences of Positive and Negative Feedback: The Impact on Emotions and Extra-role Behaviors," "Even where negative feedback is needed, managers should be aware of the potential negative consequences of negative feedback in terms of the experienced affect and the reduced motivation to engage in OCB [Organizational Citizenship Behavior], reduced affective organizational commitment, and increased turnover intention."

Don't let someone's insecurities or lack of skill put your light out, and learn from them when they try to.

The goal I’ve found is that no matter what, don’t let someone’s insecurities or lack of skill put your light out, and learn from them when they try to. Work never to do that to another. American poet Maya Angelou said, “People will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s my goal, and although not perfect, it is something I strive to do daily. You should do the same.

And for bystanders, when someone’s being humiliated, I challenge you to act on Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s counsel, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.” Instead, say something positive about that person, even if it puts you at risk (at least that is what I would do).

And when you coach? Please, please deliver hope-based coaching, not fear-based. When you do, your bottom line will increase and so will your organizational morale, among other things. Maybe not overnight, but it will. The best part? You can lay your head down at night and know that you actually inspired someone for the better, perhaps even saved a life.

So thank you, professor, thank you for showing me through your fear-based coaching how not to be. Especially since, last I checked, humiliation can be recovered from. And thank you for inspiring me to be a hope-based leader who can impact for generations. Now that is massive success.

Cynthia Kimball is a professional speaker, trainer and doctoral student in work-force development and organizational leadership. Her column, "Every1Counts," appears regularly on She can be reached at

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