Fear Stifles Healthcare Innovation

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

By April Blankenship, Patient Experience Coach, HealthStream Engagement Institute

Innovation is the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods, according to Merriam Webster (Webster, 2014).  The biggest obstacle to innovation in an organization is fear.  Fear limits a leader and keeps him or her from creating ideas or finding solutions that could positively alter or change the workplace.  As a patient experience coach, I have spoken to many leaders who have great ideas but remain silent. When asked why they were hesitant, they stated, “It is better to just stay off the radar”; they cited being ostracized or made to feel that their voices were not important as reasons for remaining silent.

Leadership courage requires the ability to recognize strengths and be aware of possible opportunities that contribute to true leadership. Courage means having the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear and to have the courage of one’s convictions, to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, especially in spite of criticism (Webster, 2014). Without innovation and courage, there is little chance of organizational success.  In a survey conducted in 2012 by the Robert Half Group, fear remains prevalent in the workplace.  What drives that fear? 

  1. Fear of making a mistake (cited by 30%)
  2. Fear of being fired
  3. Fear of dealing with difficult customers or clients
  4. Fear of conflict with a leader
  5. Fear of speaking in front of  a group
  6. Fear of disagreements with co-workers

Only 3% of employees consider themselves “fearless”; that’s only 3 of 100 people!  We shouldn’t be surprised that innovation is lacking (Williams, 2012). There is clearly a lack of consistent leadership development as a tool to assist leaders in their own growth.  Many leaders are promoted because they were well liked and/or excelled in their previous positions; they were expected to carry that into their next roles.  Lack of knowledge also drives fear and silence. Additionally, if the person in the lead role is provided development opportunities but fails to articulate ideas because they lack courage, the results can be dismal. When people are not offered development skills to foster their success they will surely fail.


Courage (n.d.), Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/courage, 2014. 

Innovation (n.d.), Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/innovation, 2014.

Williams, David K., M. M, “Conquering the Enemies of Innovation: Fear and Silence,” Harvard Business Review Blog, Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/12/conquering-the-enemies-of-inno/, 2012.

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