The Primitive Brain Takeover, How Fear-Based Leadership Is Backfiring


What’s your fear response? Is it fear, flight, freeze, or fawn?

No matter how you cope with a crisis personally, workplace culture and team dynamics are not insulated from human responses. As a group, our collective brains have similar reactions.

You probably don’t have to look too far in the rearview mirror to identify patterns of behavior among leadership and supporting teams. If your team is still in 2020-Crisis-Mode and acting in fear, flight, freeze, or fawn, your leadership style may be Fear-Based Leadership…and you’re likely running out of steam.

Fear-Based Leadership is:

  • Directive / Not conversational
  • Simple to grock / Easy to understand
  • Effective in making fast, pivotal decisions

Crisis mode is hard on teams. 

Fear triggers the primitive brain takeover. When people aren’t engaged in conversation or outcomes, leaders can’t get enough information to make informed decisions. The prefrontal cortex shuts down. Things like new ideas, learning, and collaboration are shut down. No one can be innovative, collaborative, or engaged.

The language of Fear-Based Leadership alone sparks a chemical reaction in the brain that takes us away from what we are actually trying to communicate.

That’s no way to run a railroad.

Get out of crisis mode and into Progressive Leadership. Foster an environment of learning, experimentation, and innovation—because that’s how the brain wants to work, not in Fear Response.

We’re not managing a crisis anymore, this is our new reality. While this style of leadership is effective in short-term, highly-volatile situations, it is not sustainable. We can’t create a culture of peak performance in crisis mode.

The future of workplace communication transforms employees to be actively engaged in co-creating a culture of respect, high performance, and creativity where teams can thrive, in a growth mindset, open to new ideas, and empower positive change.

What Pandemic-induced Fear-Based Leadership habits are you ready to kick to the curb? Connect here to let us know what you’re letting go.



For progressive businesses and visionary organizations who need to foster an environment of learning, experimentation, and innovation, 304 delivers coaching, consulting, and custom programs that positively shape company cultures, impact and empower employees, and builds beautiful businesses. See more talent strategy stuff on YouTube.

Scroll to Top