Dr. Mimi Guarneri

Dr. Mimi Guarneri

When I interviewed Dr. Mimi Guarneri for Lead From The Heart, I asked if there were physiological reasons for why people who felt more cared for in the workplace were more productive.  She responded without hesitation. 

“There are only two human emotions, love and fear,” she told me. “Ultimately, you want your default mechanism to be love.  But we have to really work on having love as our default mechanism.  It’s very easy for us to give love to a puppy, our grandbaby and our kids.  But it’s very hard in the workplace.”

“What leaders need to know is that there are many incentives for choosing love over fear,” she said.  “A natural reason is that fear is a negative emotion which frequently releases stress hormones – adrenaline, aldosterone and cortisol – all which make us sick.”

As a real life example of how fear can wield lethal power, Dr. Guarneri related the story of one of her patients, a very wealthy man whose cancer had been in remission.

“When the financial crisis hit, he was, of course, affected and went through a very, very stressful period of time – a period mostly marked by fear.  And his cancer came back.”  Looking for some ideas as to what may have resuscitated his illness, Dr. Guarneri asked her patient “what’s different in your life today?”

He knew instantly. “I can tell you.  I have stressed out and fretted and worried so much that I’m convinced that’s what brought back my cancer.”

According to Dr. Guarneri, there was no question in her mind that he was right.

“When you have emotions like fear and anger, you raise all the stress hormones, suppress the immune system, and you get sick.   Most people can relate to this – after stressful periods at work – when they finally get to the beach in Puerto Vallarta they get sick.”

To many business leaders, I’m certain, the idea of displaying “love” to workers seems almost ridiculous.  But this isn’t romantic love we’re talking about.  It really comes down to respecting and caring for other people as much as we do ourselves and demonstrating that to them.  Authentically looking for ways of supporting employees so that they can thrive and do good work.

Leadership by fear is all too common in American business and has been proved to be especially destructive to people and to their productivity.  According to fear expert, USC Sociology Professor Barry Glassner, “there is no greater obstacle to success and happiness than fear; fear paralyzes and limits life.  It stops us from trying in many situations where we have to try in order to succeed.  People become afraid to act.  A culture of fear discourages people from taking risks – and restricts us from growing.”

As I suspect is also true for you, the far majority of leaders I worked for in my career relied on some form of fear to motivate worker performance.  In the short term, any form of fear can be counted on to rally a human being’s performance.  But as basis for why so many people have become so disheartened and unhappy at work, leadership activated by fear has proved itself entirely unsustainable and therefore undermining to the human spirit.

Dr. Guaneri’s insight has made our course of action quite simple. If there are only two emotions to draw upon in leadership, we’d all be wise to at least try to lead using the other for awhile and see how things work out.

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By Mark C. Crowley

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century which has been taught in 11 American universities. He is a global speaker, leadership consultant and thought leader on the topics of workplace culture and employee engagement.