Employees perceive leaders who are feared rather than loved as having more influence. Fear, on the other hand, despite improving performance, produces an unstable relationship between leaders and their staff. Fear was the dominating model until about a generation ago. Corporal punishment was frequent even in public schools in the 1950s and 1960s, and the workplace was generally hierarchical and autocratic, with leaders imposing incentives and punishments based on rule compliance. Today, most teachers in the industrialized world would lose their jobs if they hit a kid, and acceptable models of leadership have also showed their gentler side in the workplace.
The transition from an industrial to an information economy has resulted in a shift in the prevalent leadership model. In factories, rigorous standards are necessary, and employees are rewarded based on very straightforward and unambiguous production measures. Knowledge workers don’t like rigidity, and fearful service personnel would have a hard time putting on a happy face for consumers. Tight constraints suffocate creativity and dedication in industries like advertising.
Niccol Machiavelli was a Renaissance political theorist who lived five hundred years ago. “It is better to be feared than to be loved, if one cannot be both,” he writes in his most famous work, The Prince. Fear, he claims, is a more effective motivator than love, which is why it is a superior weapon for leaders. Is this, however, the case in today’s workplace? To find out, let’s look at both extremes of the spectrum.
To be feared as a leader
Employees believe that leaders that are feared have more authority. They are figures of authority who frequently administer harsh punishments with few rewards. Employees that are motivated by fear are more likely to push themselves to be efficient and avoid making mistakes in order to escape punishment. While fear might promote performance, it can also damage relationships between leaders and their workforce. Employees who are generally uneasy in the workplace are unlikely to stay for very long.
Furthermore, a fear-driven workforce is less inclined to take risks since they are concerned about the consequences of their mistakes. It causes a loss of psychological safety, as well as the freedom to act without fear of negative consequences. As a result, creativity and productivity suffer. A fear-based culture can stifle growth and development.
Advantages of being feared
It earns you respect. It is normally better to instill respect if you are new to your position or younger than your subordinates. There is a tremendous temptation to challenge your authority in this situation. The difficulty is exacerbated if some of the employees are former coworkers or acquaintances. Be ready to be stern if necessary. If you have pals who expect special treatment or have an overly familiar attitude, it will be incredibly tough.
It facilitates the completion of tasks. You may have no choice but to express your authority at times. When positive incentive fails, sanctions and, eventually, terminations are used to get things done.
Disadvantages of being feared
You risk scaring away talent. If you’re dealing with employees who are difficult to replace, keeping them on board will be challenging if they might simply find work elsewhere. Unless they are willing to forsake big separation money, they are quite likely to look for a better atmosphere.
People may be hesitant to take charge. In a fearful environment, the key priority will be how to prevent mistakes rather than establishing daring goals that would undoubtedly involve risks.
You might be despised. Machiavelli himself warns about being so nasty that you become despised. Instead of receiving obedience, when fear develops to hatred, your employees will actively reject control. At its most extreme, this could lead to sabotage or even attacks.
It’s possible that the wheel will turn. You may one day find yourself at the mercy of individuals you previously intimidated, and you will come to regret your actions.
To be loved as a leader
Leaders that are well-liked, on the other hand, put their staff first, resulting in a stronger employer-employee tie. You’re less likely to get into disagreement or emotions of distrust in the workplace if you’re the type of leader who is loved or just generally liked by your followers. This type of relationship fosters a respectful culture in the workplace. It encourages collaboration and production. It also makes employees feel valued, which can contribute to a positive work environment and increased employee retention.
Effective managers must ensure that their personnel are doing their duties and achieving their objectives. However, imposing a harsh and repressive environment is not the only option. You can establish higher emotions of trust and allow better communication and transparency by showcasing the lighter side of your personality and indicating that you don’t take everything too seriously.
However, this means that leaders have less disciplinary authority over their teams. Employees are less likely to listen to their superiors or respect their authority as a result of it. They may begin to slack off and break rules in some circumstances.
Advantages of being loved
It feels right. Many managers like being a benefactor or friend to their subordinates, which may not be politically proper. Unlike what is typically depicted in telenovelas, it is uncommon for a manager to dislike being the bearer of good news.
People are more inclined to share helpful information with you. People are more likely to trust you with information if they believe you are a good person. This can take many different shapes. It’s possible that they’d be more candid with their opinions on a project you’re considering. If you have a good working relationship with your coworkers, they are also more inclined to report significant breaches.
People are encouraged to generate innovative ideas. A cheerful environment encourages creativity. People are more likely to take positive risks and be more innovative when they are encouraged.
Disadvantages of being loved
Discipline may be compromised. When rules are not followed to the letter, people tend to disregard them entirely. How can you explain punishing a subordinate for a violation when you just excused his coworker for the identical offence last week? Even if what you’re saying is true, he’ll think you’re being harsh because his offence was more serious.
Overhead may rise to the point that the company becomes uncompetitive. In order to delight the workers, some people (albeit a minority) provide excessive salaries and benefits. These are usually awarded during a period of high profit. Unfortunately, it is difficult or impossible to reduce salary and benefits during a downturn. It’s also difficult to downsize the workforce because our labour legislation prohibits all employees from being fired without cause.
You could become overly engaged in your employees’ personal lives. While knowing about your employees’ personal lives is beneficial, it also has drawbacks. Employees may demand too much consideration, particularly monetary consideration when they are in desperate need. Always be explicit about your professional boundaries.
When leaders are balanced
Is it genuinely better to be feared than loved, as Machiavelli claimed? It appears improbable. Is it then preferable to be loved rather than feared? That does not appear to be the case. To be effective leaders, firm executives must strike a fair balance between the two because moving from one extreme to the next can be harmful to the company.
That implies executives should be empathetic and listen to employees’ problems and speak openly with them, aiming to establish connections. They must, however, exercise authority when necessary, take command of situations, and motivate staff to perform.
It’s hardly an exact science to strike this equilibrium. It necessitates leaders analyzing problems and comprehending their staff in order to take proper actions at the appropriate times. It also encourages leaders to hone all of their skills, including those that aren’t natural to them. Employees will not fear or love leaders who achieve this balance; instead, they will regard them as effective leaders.
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