Niccolo Machiavelli advised Renaissance-era Italian princes with this counsel: “It is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” This is savvy advice for rulers and dictators, but would have dreadful consequences for any other leader.
You will not and cannot always be loved by your team and your organization. Love is nice when it happens, but fickle and dangerous to depend upon. History is replete with leaders who drove themselves and their tribes and nations into disaster as they chased the love of men.
Using fear as a leadership tool will inevitably fail. I love the opening scene of Star Wars “Return of the Jedi”, as Darth Vader arrives at the unfinished Death Star and meets the Commander. The music is ominous.
Vader: “I’m here to put you back on schedule.”
Commander: “I assure you, my men are working as fast as they can.”
Vader: “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.”
Commander: “I tell you, this station will be operational as planned.”
Vader: “The emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal.”
Commander: “He asks the impossible. I need more men.”
Vader: “Then perhaps you can tell him when he arrives.”
Commander: “The emperor is coming here?”
Vader: “That is correct, Commander, and he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.”
Commander: “We shall double our efforts!”
Vader: “I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.”
Fear is indeed a motivator. But fear drives out love and leaves only room for desperate creativity.
The Germans used Polish prisoners in their ammunition factors, driving them with fear and intimidation. During WW2 an English bomber plane returned to base after being shot up by German forces. The pilot and crew thought it was miraculous that they survived given how much they had been hit. The repair crew found multiple unexploded shells in the fuselage and gas tank. One of the defective shells contained a tiny note written in Polish. “This is all we can do for you now.”
Fear does not win forever.
So if you as a leader choose not to use fear, and cannot depend upon love, what should you do?
Aim for respect.
Respect is a by-product of the things you do (and don’t do) and say (and don’t say). It’s an emergent property of how we interact with others. You can’t manipulate it directly, but respect is a powerful force in human organizations.
Consider this chart, and what you can do today to promote respect: