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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Love and Fear in Leadership


Do you think leaders should be loved or feared?  This leadership question has been debated over the years with different surveys and trends that reveal many opinions on the matter.  

Some believe that fear is a motivator and that people, when left to their own devices, will not perform without the threat of discipline or punishment.  Instilling fear then, is a motivator unto itself.  The fearful leader rules with an iron fist and order is achieved through the genuine belief that discomfort will result should they not perform.  Police officers can sometimes fall back on their position of authority and use their badge to motivate through fear.  Parents do this by using the “Because I said so” approach.

The problem with being feared is that people don’t develop intrinsic motivation to perform (motivation that comes from within us).  When people perform out of fear, they soon become resentful and that results in a revolt against authority over time.  When a police officer instills fear when they could have used influence, defiance occurs.  

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the leader who is loved.  This leader gains the admiration of his or her people based on affection.  This leader typically craves being looked upon favorably by those they lead.

A leader who is loved may become so accustom to the feeling of admiration that it clouds their thinking.  It feels good to be loved and it’s easy to get caught up in the warm and fuzzy throes of positive emotion.  As result, the loved leader will make decisions based on the need to hold onto that feeling and thus, will attempt to appease their people rather than risk upsetting them.  The consequence is that these loved leaders will soon turn to others to make the tough decisions so they don’t have to be the “bad guy”.  In parenthood, this results in being more of a friend than a parent.


Many say that leaders should be both loved and feared.  I disagree and argue that they should be neither.  Instead, they should be respected.

Respect is born out of high regard and is elicited by a persons abilities, qualities and achievements.  It is an esteemed reverence for skill but the overarching characteristic for respecting a leader is based on reciprocity.  That is, they genuinely hold their people in high regard and honor them for their contribution to the organization.  

Leaders who are respected follow a simple formula when making any decision -- whether it be about policy or personnel:  

Am I doing the the right thing, at the right time, and for the right reasons?  

If the answer to any component of this question is “no”, they re-evaluate and formulate a response that is in proper alignment.

A respected leader will always be able to give transparent reasons for the decision they made and will never feel ambushed or insulted when asked to do so.  A respected leader understands that they will not please everyone all of the time and makes peace with that concept because they have followed the formula. 

I firmly believe that you can buy a person’s back, but you cannot buy their heart.  Quite simply, I can force someone to do what I want by threat of punishment (fear) and that method will be effective; but only in the short term.


However, when the heart is fully engaged and people believe that they are valued and respected, they will perform because their purpose and their passion persuades them to do so.  It takes time to build an environment where values and expectations are communicated clearly and where people are appreciated for their skills.  This is no easy feat because it requires honest and open dialogue and transparent policies with constant communication.  

Perhaps we shouldn’t focus on the leaders at all.  Maybe the answer is finding the “why” in what we do so that we perform not for someone but for something bigger than ourselves.

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