The Myth of Respect Through Fear
Niccolo Machiavelli set the world of leadership on the wrong path when he said, “It is better to be feared than to be loved, if one cannot be both.”
Ever since that compelling quote, leaders have debated the role of fear in elevating performance and achieving results. Leaders who rely on fear know something important that often gets missed by those who reject it. Nothing is more effective than fear to get others to do what a leader wants.
Over time, fear produces a basket of dysfunction that renders it hugely inadequate to achieve consistent performance. Fearful people don’t take risks, refuse to step up, decline to volunteer, avoid feedback, and stop asking questions, among many other negative reactions.
Even more damning is that fact that fearful team members only perform when the threats implied by fear are in clear view. Unless the leader holding the metaphorical whip is physically present, team members act out and rebel. “When the cats away…,” as they say.
There’s more bad news for the fear crowd. Once leaders consistently use fear, they destroy the trust necessary to achieve outcomes in any other way. Fear, and the coercive tactics that carry it, become the only viable path for these leaders, further undermining long-term effectiveness. What was Machiavelli thinking?
Machiavelli likely made the same mistake many leaders do. He wrongly believed that fear creates respect. In fact, the opposite is true. Fear is a distressful emotion backed by implied threat. Fearful people only comply to avoid the threat or punishment. They see the fear-producing leader and the tactics they employ as something to avoid whenever they can.
Leaders who presume that compliance and deference, even at gunpoint, are a sign of reverence are sadly mistaken. In actuality, compliance through fear is only a reflection of obedience.
The coercive tactics required to produce fear are always disrespectful. Constantly letting others know you hold the power to harm them creates many feelings, none of them connected to respect.
Respect is something people willingly confer to others. It can’t be compelled or forced. Respect is earned by engaging in the actions admired by others. No one but the leaders who depend on it admires fear.
I’m going fishing fk em
As the fear machine rolls on