/How FOSU Can Kill Your Business

How FOSU Can Kill Your Business

“It can feel like a rigged game. Executives set impossible goals, so managers drive their teams to burn out trying to deliver. Employees demand connection and support, so managers – many of whom have received no leadership development or leadership training – focus on relationships trying to change their employee engagement scores, and ultimately fail to make the numbers,” say Karin Hurt, CEO, and David Dye, President, of Let’s Grow Leaders. “The fallout is stress, frustration, and disengagement, and not just among team members―two-thirds of managers report being disengaged. To succeed, managers need balance: they must lead people to achieve while creating an environment that makes them truly want to.” 

Karin and David answer four questions that will help you lead successfully and keep your business flourishing. 

What is FOSU? 

FOSU (Fear of Speaking Up) is an epidemic stifling innovation and creative problem solving.  

In today’s business climate, people are often discouraged for saying the wrong thing and not rewarded for saying the right thing – so they say nothing. The consequences can be dire: businesses lose customers, problems multiply, and employees lose heart. 

Why does Fear of Speaking Up happen?  

It’s a complicated dynamic of leaders not asking, ignoring or rejecting suggestions, and employees playing it safe. 

  • Senior leaders wonder why people won’t solve problems or share solutions, but don’t realize that their own style or approach is squelching feedback. 
  • Insecure middle level managers discourage sharing. 
  • Leaders don’t ask. 
  • Speaking up isn’t rewarded 
  • Internal competition drives people to keep their successful secrets to themselves rather than to share best practices. 
  • Employees have had bad experiences in the past, feel like their opinion isn’t welcome, valued, don’t know how to speak up, or they may be so busy they don’t recognize they have something valuable to offer. 

What are the consequences to a team or organization when FOSU is common? 

In our leadership consulting and training, we’ve seen many teams and companies struggle and fail because people aren’t speaking up to improve the business.  

It starts with innovation stagnation. People do what they’ve always done, and you don’t see the “micro-innovations” – the small improvements in day-to-day work. Inefficiency multiplies and is never eliminated. This sucks the life out of employees and employee engagement declines.  

Silos creep in between teams and departments. Leaders don’t get the information they need to make the best decisions and there is no bench for leadership succession. Motivated employees leave for organizations where their passion is valued. 

What can you do to eliminate FOSU in your team or organization? 

Here some of the best practices we’ve observed in organizations that succeed in reversing FOSU.

For leaders, we recommend that you ask. Intentionally seek out the wisdom your people have to offer. When you get feedback or ideas, respond. You don’t have to implement every idea but do say thank you.  

Celebrate when people speak up. Create specific times where you facilitate the sharing of ideas about how to improve.

We encourage you to Own the U.G.L.Y., by asking these 4 strategic questions: 

  • What are we Underestimating? 
  • What’s got to Go? 
  • Where are we Losing? 
  • Where are we missing the Yes? 

Eliminate unproductive internal competition. If people have incentives to keep their ideas to themselves, it’s unreasonable to expect them to share.  And use strategic open-ended questions that ask employees to share their ideas for improving the business.   

Another strategy is called two-level thinking. What is it that keeps your boss’s boss up at night? What are the goals they need to achieve and the problems they need to solve? Present your idea in terms of what they need to achieve, and you improve your chances of it being heard and implemented.  

And of course, create two- way conversations about what’s working and where expectations are breaking down.



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