Niccolo Macchiavelli, an Italian Renaissance historian, philosopher and writer, is famously known for the quote, "It is better to be feared than loved, if one cannot be both."
As a leader, which would you rather be? This question, when applied to a corporate management scenario, ushers in two underlying assumptions. The first is that to be feared means you are someone employees dislike because you're strict. The other is that to be loved means you are someone who people are comfortable with.
Of course, most people want to be liked, so the answer may seem like a no-brainer. But some would argue that, particularly in a business, where executives are responsible for facilitating structure and control, it is better to be feared. On the other hand, to be a effective leader you need to be approachable – and that can be difficult to do if everyone is afraid of you.
So, is it better for a business leader to be feared or loved? Let's take a deeper look into each option.
To be loved
When you are the kind of leader that is loved (or just generally liked) by your followers, you're less likely to run into conflict or feelings of distrust in the workplace. Developing strong personal relationships and facilitating a friendly corporate culture can lead to higher levels of productivity and engagement, which can improve performance.
Certainly it is important that managers make sure their employees are doing their jobs and meeting their goals. But creating a strict and rigid environment is not the only way to do this. As Tyler Becker pointed out in an article for CEO, "company culture is closely aligned with productivity and success" and that "if you're not enjoying yourself, making jokes, sharing funny videos, and smiling at work with others, you're doing the overall business a disservice."
By demonstrating the lighter side of your personality and showing that don't take everything too seriously, you can instill greater feelings of trust and facilitate better communication and transparency.
"Fear can be an effective motivation tool, even if it's not preferred."
To be feared
Corporate leaders are responsible for making tough decisions. And sometimes that means doing what is best for the company, even if it means making some workers unhappy. Being the kind of boss that is everyone's friend can make it harder to prioritize the needs of the business over the wants of employees.
Plus, fear can be an effective motivation tool, even if it's not the preferred one. Workers who are intimidated by their management team probably aren't going to slack off as much as they otherwise would. However, employees that are generally uncomfortable in the workplace probably won't stick around for too long.
Which is better?
It's easy to see why it could be difficult to decide between the two. In his famous statement, Macchiavelli argued that being feared is better than being loved. However, sometimes people overlook the latter part of the quote, "if one cannot be both."
"Instead of trying to perfect a certain style of leadership, managers should be flexible."
This concept is one that you may recall from the joke it inspired on an episode of "The Office." When asked which he would rather be, the show's main character, Michael Scott, a goofy and outlandish type of boss, replied, "Easy. Both. I want people to be scared of how much they love me."
Though obviously intended as a humorous punch line, Scott's answer hits on an important point: Maybe you don't have to choose. You just have to flexible. In an article for Irish News, Glenda Nelson pointed out that, instead of adopting a specific leadership style, it would be more beneficial for company leaders to make sure they are able to adapt according to situational needs.
Aim to embody a blend of characteristics that touch on both fear and love. That way you're able to apply the necessary qualities in various situations, where and when they are needed most.