We learn our management lessons in many ways: courses, experience, mentors and role models. One of the lessons I learned, and find myself still teaching, is management by FEAR. There are two ways to look a that, both good and bad, just like role models.

We learn not just from textbooks and experience, we also learn from role models. You can count yourself as blessed if you have had a mentor in your life, especially if you have been able to observe his or her behaviour (do what they do, not just what they say to do). Role models don’t have to be active mentors – you can find them on your own and quietly observe their behaviours.

We also can learn from negative role models, assuming we can discern the difference between positive effective behaviour and bad.

I once had a boss who provided me with examples of both. He was psychologically insecure and he compensated for that by managing by intimidation. Big and gruff he tended to cause junior and senior staff alike (even his own executives) to feel they had to justify themselves all the time. He’d surprise people and challenge what they were doing, rarely giving direct positive feedback or acknowledgement. (Yet he was a great champion of his team outside the organization.) Socially awkward, probably deeply introverted, he did not engage easily and tended to avoid social situations, even to the point of ignoring you, causing resentment and unease. Moreover, he knew he intimidated people and seemed to enjoy it.

It was sufficiently distressing for me that I dreaded my one-on-one weekly meetings with him. Talk about a negative role model.

On the other hand he was a referential experienced executive: he believed in continuous improvement and learning from mistakes; and in management education. He was especially proud of his own participation in the six-week Banff School for Advanced Management Executive Program (whose model is a tyrannosaurus rex and the slogan, adapt or perish). In many ways he was a good role model for management because he tried to actively apply the techniques he learned at management school and from his own past mentors. (One of whom himself had a reputation for being unreasonably demanding – he once convened a meeting on Christmas Eve (evening!) on a trumped up plant situation to demonstrate his power and gauge loyalty and commitment from his management team.)

He believed in management by FEAR and actively practiced it. He was very disciplined about scheduling and holding weekly one-on-one meetings; each meeting had the same agenda: review of issues raised at the last meeting, evaluating progress, and an implicit invitation to raise any other issues as early warning signs; monthly the agenda made reference to items in the strat plan or other major issues; and periodically he would ask questions about my own professional development. This was his notion (or BSAM’s) of management by FEAR, an acronym for Frequent Evaluation And Review, and he was very disciplined about applying this fundamentally sound technique of management.

I find it ironic that now I advise my clients to adopt this practice as a basic ‘secret of management’. But without the ‘fear’ factor.