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Learning from our mistakes is a simple concept, but one that has evaded many large organisations in Australia, which operate with a culturally entrenched fear of punishment that stifles creativity and innovation.

The Resilience Institute conducted a 3 year study of 16,000 people in 251 companies, finding that the level of worry sits around 30% and the work environment is assessed as intense by 80% of staff. 

“Fear based cultures are common and costly,” says Stuart Taylor, Founder of The Resilience Institute Australia. 

“When people are afraid to voice their concerns, the result is often lost productivity, high staff turnover, absenteeism, distress and burnout. New ideas rarely surface as they are shot down before they are allowed to get off the starting block.”

A great way of determining whether a culture is fear-based, is to observe how failure is handled.  Is the “culprit” punished OR encouraged to learn and adapt? This is largely influenced by the leadership style of the CEO and direct reports, who set the tone.  They choose whether to lead with compassion (high-trust, sometimes tough-love, high respect for individuals) or with indifference, contempt, sympathy or antipathy.

Poor leadership skills that contribute to this toxic environment include:

Micromanaging task completion

Punishing staff for failure

Lack of Empathy

Setting up an environment of contempt - us vs them (car parks, titles, exclusion) 

“As an employee in this environment, get clear on your values and what you’re prepared to accept versus where you can push back,” says Taylor.

“Work on building your resilience and self-confidence to thrive in difficult situations, try to foster a relationship with a sponsor who has influence in the organisation with a third party present (e.g. HR), engage in a conversation with the leader to discuss the concerns and seek mutual understanding, maintain strong lifestyle practices (sleep, exercise, nutrition, meditation) and be very clear on establishing expectations.”

This trend needs to change and we need to see an end to the ‘command and control’ style of leadership. To encourage trust-based cultures, we can begin by educating executive teams and encouraging businesses to adopt values-based models (eg. care, innovation, can-do) rather than purely an output-based model (e.g. revenue, costs). 

In a trust-based culture:

·         Staff are encouraged and rewarded for having a contrary opinion 

·         conflict is resolved with courageous, compassionate conversations not sympathetic avoidance, coercion or contempt

·         Decision making is Values-based and consistent

·         Leaders’ actions match promises

·         Leaders tell the truth

·         Information is as transparent as possible and acceptable

·         Leaders use power respectfully

·         Leaders have a “greater good” goal centre not narcissistic

·         Leaders readily admit mistakes and outline remedy

“Develop leadership coaching skills particularly around compassionate conversions,” says Taylor.

“Strong leadership occurs through staff empowerment, coaching and purpose-linked reward instead of pacesetting and punishment for failure.”  

About Stuart Taylor

Taylor was climbing the ladder to corporate executive when he was diagnosed with brain cancer, prognosis 2.5 years. Stuart embarked on a journey back to physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual health, founding The Resilience Institute in Australia to share his experience and philosophy with Australian organisations.

Taylor has spoken to over 20,000 people globally on human behaviour, motivation, stress mastery, organisational and personal performance in workshops and conference presentations. He is also the author of Assertive Humility - Emerging From The Ego Trap. Taylor now sits on the Board of The Gawler Cancer Foundation and is an Ambassador for Cure Brain Cancer Foundation

About The Resilience Institute

The Resilience Institute’s mission is to deliver high impact, practical, evidence based and integrated Resilience training by bringing together modern preventative medicine, positive psychology, emotional intelligence, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and neuroscience.They have an international team to provide global support to clients such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Shell, NAB, General Electric and Microsoft.

For more information please visit

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