We have to talk more openly than we have done in the past about fear and trust at work. Fear and trust are the chemical currents that power every good or bad thing an organization does, but we seldom talk about them and it hurts us not to. We pretend there are no currents. We focus on particles instead of waves. We are obsessed with numbers in cells on spreadsheets and with graphs and algorithms, while the real energy that powers your success (and without which you are going nowhere fast) has nothing to do with particles! It is an energy wave. As leaders we need to turn our attention away from the particles that we love so much to measure, and focus on the waves instead. When we talk about corporate culture, we are really talking about your organization’s ability – or lack of ability – to acknowledge trust and fear. We re talking about your ability to manage the human energy in your shop as capably as you manage operational, financial and marketing issues. I’ve spent my whole adult life watching organizations and leaders and seeing the electrical connections, positive and negative charges, flow between and among them. If we can’t tell the truth about that energy field, we will chase arbitrary yardsticks forever and accomplish nothing useful. We’ll hit a yardstick and be happy for three weeks until somebody says “Wait, that yardstick was wrong.” When the energy is blocked, you just can’t move forward, personally or as an organization. Work is harder, less fun and less productive. Resignation sets in. Cynicism follows quickly behind. Why should people care about their work or your company, if you don’t care about them? If we can tell the truth about fear and trust at work, we have an enormous power supply at our disposal. It’s the power of your team’s intention, combined with their talents and their desire to work on something fun and satisfying. It’s a simple formula. This power source is free! To tap it, you only need to do one thing. You need to shift your view of your workplace from a mechanical, people-are-cogs model to a human model that says your employees are the key to your success and your highest priority as a leader. Any of the smart people under you can make investment, new-product development or operations decisions or make those decisions in concert with you. Your job is to lead the team, period. Your job is to link two powerful things: the highest vision and mission for your organization, and the brain-and-heart power of the people in your shop. How hard is that? It’s easy to create a positive and powerful energy field in your workplace. To do it, you need to back off the governmental-sounding policies and rules that too many organizations shove in their employees’ faces on a regular basis. When you hire smart people and let them connect to their own power source at work, they will amaze you. You won’t need ten million rules and policies then. The standard and predictable response of an employee in a healthy workplace is to hit and surmount his or her goals and every team goal, too. They can do that because their forward energy is unblocked. It’s free to run! The problem in most organizations — the biggest problem in the business world as well as the least-addressed one — is that business ‘engines’ are clogged up with sludge in the form of unclear goals, fearful managers, unnecessary rules and restrictions, and too little room to debate, question, learn and grow. There’s a shortage of truth-telling, and it’s easy to see why. All the incentives to people who keep their mouth shut. That’s bad for the organization, but it’s good for that person individually, at least in the short term, to keep smiling and tell the boss whatever the boss wants to hear. It’s a simple problem to understand and an easy one to spot, providing you do not work in the organization yourself. When you’re inside the fishbowl, you can’t see how filthy the water has become. You’ve learned to swim through it. It’s invisible to you. Anyone outside the organization who could tell you the truth would tell you that there is sludge and gunk all over your engine. Whether a company is growing, shrinking or treading water, fear will emerge and it’s got to be addressed. Only newcomers to your company who come from outside the sludge zone can remind us that in the real world, things move quickly. Mother Nature is always stirring the pot. Nothing stays the same, and neither can your business. Every business of every size has to stay in flux and flexible just to survive. Sludge in your company’s engine is the number one impediment to that flexibility. Your culture is the loudest thing happening in your organization. It is booming in your employees’ ears. Your vendors know a lot about your culture. Your customers may know more about your culture than you do. They have a ringside view! Can you stop and consider the waves of fear and trust swelling and crashing in your organization right now, and to stop and see them and acknowledge them? Your world will expand when you do.