Is it better to be feared or loved?

“It is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved? It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both: but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” Advises Machiavelli in The Prince.

I have certainly worked for many, many leaders who take that approach and they are successful.  Fear gets things done.  Fear of deadlines, fear of losing respect, fear of losing your job, fear of losing anybody close to you.

In my experience, though, it provides short term gain.  If we don’t get this proposal in by Monday then we won’t win the contract.  If you don’t do this by 5pm you will not impress me.  Ultimately, day after day, week after week, it is exhausting.  I assume it is exhausting for the leader as well as for the team member; I’ve been too afraid to ask.

Fuelled by fear is not a sustainable strategy for a leader.  In my opinion.  Inciting fear in your team does not bring trust, it doesn’t bring loyalty, it doesn’t bring safety.  Team members will do wants necessary to survive.  They won’t necessarily attend to changes or risks.  They will be too scared to speak up.  Like the story of the surgeon that operated on the wrong leg.  Everyone knew it was wrong.  A nurse tried to intervene.  She tried once but was told to get on with her work.  Luckily most of these situation are not life or death.

The problems that we all have to face are complex.  They require collaboration.  These problems need people to work together.  People need to feel confident that their point of view will be attended to.  Of course we are not perfect, we will not always get it right.

Sometimes the friendly open leader is taken advantage of.  In these instances then you, of course, need to be assertive.  I try to do this from a place of curiosity.

“do you agree with our plan?”

“that’s interesting, why do you believe that?”

“OK, I hadn’t considered that point of view.  Have you got a suggestion for what we need to do next to address this problem?”

This type of enquiry has worked for me more times than not.  So, I’m afraid, I disagree with Machiavelli.  I would say that surely it is better to be loved than feared?



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