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So, on this question of being loved or feared
#managing_others As leaders, are we more effective when we are loved or feared?
One thing Niccolò Machiavelli is famous for is asking and answering the question if it’s better for a leader to be loved or feared:
So, on this question of being loved or feared, I conclude that since some men love as they please but fear when the prince pleases, a wise prince should rely on what he controls, not on what he cannot control.
His perspective is that you can’t make someone love you, but as a leader, you can undoubtedly make someone fear you. His conclusion bothered me as a college student unwise to the ways of the real world; using fear to lead seemed wrong. Gratefully, I didn’t need to think about this question again until the day came when my manager reclassified my job to manage a team of people.
No doubt, it’s easy to get things done when people are fearful of you. As a person’s manager, you can just threaten to fire them. If it’s not the job that the person’s afraid of losing, then imperil something else that matters, such as ruining a person’s professional reputation. As a leader, there are so many ways to be evil and engender fear, but in practice, few people aspire to be managers for these reasons.
In contrast, when your team loves working with you, it’s a fantastic feeling! When you work with people who enjoy working with you, work starts to feel like play every day. People contribute because they are motivated not to let you down. However, Machiavelli is right - I learned that it is also true that it wasn’t always possible to remain loved. It hurt when people stopped liking me, even at work. Sometimes, I didn’t know why.
Until very recently, my answer to this thought exercise is to say that the answer isn’t to be loved or feared - but to be fair. I reasoned that being fair was something you could control because when you are fair, people will know what you stand for and so you will not surprise them with your decisions. Because you are fair, people will follow your lead. For years, I was comfortable with this answer as it seemed to be a management principle that worked in practice and was within my control. It felt better than relying on fear, yet unburdened from the whims of love.
Still, my answer bothered me. Love and fear are feelings other people have toward you. Me being fair is not an answer to the question. Fairness is related to the answer, but not the solution itself. It wasn’t just a matter of semantics. It was something else - but what?
Last year, I read the Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, and I think he finally unlocked the answer for me. He explains it best here:
There’s an alternative that’s just as effective as being feared and just as appealing as being loved. I think the answer is to be trusted. Trust is a feeling that someone can feel towards you just as love and fear are. Trust is something you can control. What bolstered my confidence in the idea of trust as a solution to Machiavelli’s thought exercise is that behaving fairly is an approach to create trust, but it isn’t the only way. Trying to be honest with your team members, and being your authentic self at work are other approaches people use to build trust - none of which are mutually exclusive.
Another benefit? Sometimes, trust develops into love.