Leadership – More than Just Ordering People Around

“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” – Niccolo Machiavelli

I started out working in management in the early 1990’s, and even then I still experienced a lot of pressure from upper management to make sure to keep an iron hold over my employees. Essentially, there’s a lot of weight given to Machiavelli’s idea about being feared and loved, with a lot more weight given to being feared.

Take a look at the people who popular culture likes to look to as management icons. We put people like Donald Trump on television and they end up popular by insulting and berating their employees. But is that what it really takes to direct people? Do you really have to be that nasty?

The answer to that is, “sometimes.” Or more accurately, you need to make sure that when you push, it’s at the right time, with the right amount of gusto. Roderick Kramer has a great article on this topic called, “The Great Indimidators.” He presents the idea that the difference between being a bully an intimidator is careful planning and vision. A leader who uses intimidation to lead makes their decisions to turn up the heat based on their vision and goals. There’s a lot that can be done in an organization with persuasion, but sometimes it does have to be with a pretty firm hand.

But, being an intimdator can be its own minefield. As Kramer points out, when you do it right, you can get far; when you don’t, you’re going to go down quickly. A lot of that is because of the sort of job market we have now. Employees are more mobile. They have more connections. And the unemployment rate we have is relatively low when compared to history. The control over the employment equation really is more on the side of the employee.

While the job market may not be ideal, it isn’t anything like it was near the beginning of the industrial revolution. When your boss is a bully, while it might be a hardship, you can get up relatively easy and find a new job. So, the best leaders today end up using strategic tactics of persuasion that make them somewhat more like salespeople. It takes a lot more work than scaring employees into submission, but the rewards end up creating a sense of loyalty amongst your subordinates. That sense of loyalty will serve you well as you work on moving up in the organization.

I’ll spend some more time in a later blogpost talking about the details of persuasion, but for now, I think we can edit Machiavelli’s quote for the modern age.

“If you cannot be both feared and loved, it is better to be loved.”

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