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Is it Better to be Loved or Feared?
This famous question comes down to us from Niccolo Machiavelli, a political theorist who lived in Italy during the Renaissance. He contended that a leader who is feared is preferable to a leader who is loved. However, he also lived during a time of great political instability where city governments changed in a flash, usually violently, and usually involving executions of the previous leadership. Since we no longer live in an age where stepping down from a leadership position or being removed would involve the loss of one’s head, do we really need to adopt the route that proved so disastrous for such ruthless dictators as Saddam Hussein and Augusto Pinochet?
The Case for Fear
An authoritarian approach to leadership is not all bad. Some people in leadership positions might still maintain that leaders who approach their employees with a sense of antagonism have fewer instances where employees take advantage of them. They can use “tough love” to “whip employees into shape.” Where supervisors who aim for popularity fail in setting boundaries for their employees, authoritarian leaders make those boundaries clear through well-defined consequences for crossing them. This approach to leadership seldom suffers from employees taking liberties or taking advantage of a perceived weakness from the supervisor.
The Case for Love
Well, that’s a case closed then, right? Make sure that you scare your employees, and they will treat you with respect and dare not cross you. This has been a great training session. Thank you for participating. Good luck!
If it were only so easy. While an authoritarian approach to leadership might give you the appearance of being respected, it’s not so likely that this respect would be genuine. Real respect must be earned, and involves respecting others. If you genuinely care about your employees, you may not have to work so hard getting them to do what needs to be done, uncovering instances where they were too afraid to approach you, or squashing conflicts with your employees that might tend to flare up when you approach your leadership role from an authoritarian standpoint. Perhaps being loved is not such a useless approach to effective leadership.
The Case against Either
The problem in leadership isn’t being more loved nor is it being feared more. Both have their upsides, but each also has its downside. Beloved leaders might be popular, but they might also be easily manipulated and put into unnecessary situations where it feels as if the inmates are running the asylum. Conversely, those who use fear as a leadership tactic frequently have to deal with such issues as insubordination or dishonesty from their employees. In addition, a work environment that is marked by fear turns into a poisonous place to work. Authoritarian leaders often experience higher rates of turnover from their employees. This means time that might otherwise be productively spent is now redirected towards training new employees. Any efficiency such a leader hoped to gain by cracking the whip has been lost when employees won’t stay for any length of time. There must be a middle way.
The Middle Ground
Since both leadership styles have both upsides and downsides, perhaps the best approach is to be a little bit of both. Like an authoritative leader, you want to have clear boundaries with clear consequences, but you do not want to create a fearful and poisonous work environment where everyone is trying to stab each other in the back and no one will tell you the truth, but whatever you want to hear.
In addition, a middle ground approach would mean that you do value your employees as people. You are genuinely interested in their lives. You understand that respect is a two-way street and must be earned. Yet, you impose clear boundaries. While you and your employees may be equal in both a personal and possibly even a professional sense, you have a different job than your employees. You face a different set of pressures. The key to understanding whether it is better to be loved or feared is considering the big picture and the long term, and in each situation, which approach would be more effective in the long run for that situation.
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