There’s science behind it. Humans are naturally drawn to leaders who emphasize the negative. Harvard research shows that fear is one of the most powerful base instincts leaders use to manipulate people in distress.
Why does fear work so well?
- It shuts down our logical, rational brain, so we accept things at face value.
- It encourages a “circle the wagons” mentality and inflates the perception of danger.
- It encourages “us vs. them” thinking, because we believe we have to band together against the enemy.
- It makes the leader look powerful when they demonize the opposition.
- It amplifies selective hearing, so we only notice that the leader tells us to notice.
- It oversimplifies the landscape so we accept black or white definitions.
Appealing to the base means appealing to our lowest animal instincts.
Leaders who appeal to base fears to influence their followers are failing all of us:
- They are contributing to polarization.
- They are tapping into a part of us that leads to violence, avoidance, and prejudice.
- The solutions they propose are severely limited.
- Their motive is supremacy and ego, not leadership.
If you are following someone because of fear, consider how it changes you:
- You see more threats that aren’t real.
- You invest more energy in protection instead of connection.
- You begin to believe that difference equals danger.
- Tunnel vision deprives you of autonomy and creativity.
- When you realize the emperor has no clothes, you are devastated and discouraged.
Leaders worth following…
- appeal to our humanity; connection, compassion, growth, actualization.
- show us how to build relationships.
- show us how to engage conflict without casualties.
- seek win-win solutions instead of win-lose competitions.
- leverage everyone’s experience and gifts instead counter-attacking.
- accept responsibility and make it right.
The base is the lowest common denominator. We can do better.