Are the Most Effective Leaders Loved or Feared?

Are the Most Effective Leaders Loved or Feared?According to behavioral sciences research cited in “Connect, Then Lead,” the cover article in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review, “when we judge others — especially our leaders — we look first at two characteristics: how lovable they are (their warmth, communion, or trustworthiness) and how fearsome they are (their strength, agency, or competence).”

The authors point out that most leaders emphasize their authority, credentials, or capability. But doing that before establishing trust “is exactly the wrong approach” because it can evoke fear or disengagement.

The feature article answers the 500 year old question raised by Niccolò Machiavelli on whether it’s better to be feared or loved by pointing to:

“a growing body of research suggests that the way to influence — and to lead — is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas…helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.

The authors cite Zenger Folkman’s recent research on likability to make their case that the chances of a leader being strongly disliked (such as being feared) and still considered a good leader is about one in 2,000. See “Demanding Leaders Are Much More Effective – and More Likable” for more on this research. It includes a chart showing the “Impact on Likability of Being Demanding” for men and women. You can also link to Zenger Folkman’s new Likability Index for a self-assessment.

Where I start disconnecting with “Connect, Then Lead” is when the authors provide advice on how to project warmth and strength or power. Their focus on body language, speech, and presence smacks of “faking authenticity.”

How to be more likable, build trust, or increase perceived honesty and integrity is a challenge we often encounter in our leadership development work. Last week’s blog on The Six Steps to Trust provided insights from Zenger Folkman’s latest research.

Another groundbreaking and highly effective approach to this conundrum pioneered by Zenger Folkman’s research is leadership cross-training at the heart of their Extraordinary Leader Development System. See Leadership Cross-Training is Powerful and Revolutionary or Powerful Combinations: Drive for Results and Builds Relationships.

Leadership is situational and different leadership is needed in different circumstances and times. In the 15th century Florentine Republic, Machivelli’s advice that “it’s much safer to be feared than loved” may have been appropriate for those times. In today’s world, it’s clear the most effective leaders who consistently deliver top results are loved — or at least very likable.

You can talk with Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman about their research at Zenger Folkman’s Extraordinary Leadership Summit on July 29 – August 1 in Park City, Utah (30 minutes from Salt Lake City airport). Click here for details and to register.

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  1. [...] response to my recent post “Are the Most Effective Leaders Loved or Feared?” I received this e-mail from Becky, RN BSN Quality Improvement Coordinator [...]

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