This is an old question and many people throughout history have tried to answer it. One of them was Machiavelli. He talked about it in his famous book, The Prince, where he gives an insightful analysis of the subject and comes to the conclusion that it’s better for a leader to be feared than to be respected.
As a psychologist, I come across both the feared and the respected leaders. Both can be very effective in achieving the goals of their organizations. Therefore, I’ve learned not to judge either of them. To me, the respected one is not by default a better leader than the feared one. A high degree of respect is not a guarantee for a leaders’ success. On the other hand, fear can be a very powerful force to move people forward to a specific goal. Personally, however, I prefer to follow a leader that I can respect instead of leader I have to fear.
Although both types of leaders can be very successful, they create very distinctive journeys for themselves.
In most cases that I’ve seen, leaders are feared because they have used for too long what I call the “lower strategies”: they’ve misled others, lied, claimed credit for other peoples work, put their own twist on the facts, intimidated others, etc. By doing this they made progress in their career and brought financial success to their organizations or departments. Some are rude and direct; others are charming and almost delicate in their ways, but they all apply these lower strategies.
Through the years they usually lose the respect of others and they get increasingly isolated. Often, out of frustration or anger, people make jokes about them and that there is a lot of gossip behind their backs. The only one who doesn’t really know what’s going on is the leader him- or herself. Because they manage by fear, smart people start to avoid them and therefore they don’t receive honest feedback any longer. Followers who are scared of the consequences will tell these leaders only what they know they want to hear. It’s as if they create their own vicious circle. Because they use the lower strategies, they lose the respect of others, they become isolated, and through the years they grow an army of personal adversaries and even enemies. I have observed several times that when these leaders “stumble” in their career, because of bad luck or because they made a bad business decision, the “army” they raised (or at least some prominent members of it) will step in to make things much worse. When these leaders then see the deep anger and resentment they have created, some of them ask themselves: “What have I become?” And when they are honest with themselves, they don’t like the answer. They realize that they may have won many battles, but when they see how isolated and disrespected they have become, they realize that they haven’t won the war.
Winning a war is not normally something you can do alone. When I’ve observed the respected leaders, I’ve seen that almost all of them build up allies through the years. Probably the strongest and most effective way of building allies is by investing in the growth of others. These leaders invest by sharing their insights and experiences and this implies that they are not afraid of followers that could one day become even stronger and better than they are. By investing in others, they get respect in return. If, however, they invest naively in just anybody, they will be exploited. And if, on the other hand, they invest in an opportunistic way for the sake of having allies, they will not earn others’ respect. But if they are authentic as leaders and invest with good intentions, they will earn not only the respect but also the loyalty of their followers. If they then “stumble” in their career, they will receive support and protection.
In working with both types of leaders, I’ve come to realize that in most cases they hadn’t made a conscious choice about the kind of leader they wanted to be. They initially tried (or copied) a certain kind of behavior and it brought them forward. Through the years, they continued on that path and “it felt right.” I often tell young leaders that they have a choice of whether to use the “lower” or the “higher” strategies, and that both can create financial success. At the end, however, it makes a significant difference in what kind of person you will become and in whether your legacy as a leader will be continued or if it will die the day you lose your power.
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International HR Director for OSF Global Services, Andreea is a veteran recruiter who has seen them all. She developed HR recruiting strategies and retention programs that guarantees the success of the company. She is a people person and she handles very easy new relationships with new employees, but her most interesting challenge is to find the middle way between company’s best interests and employee’s needs. To learn more about Andreea contact her on LinkedIn.