Is It Better to Be Liked or Feared? (Bloomberg Businessweek)

You’ve seen images of professional sports coaches screaming at slumped-over teams in locker rooms. Cut to the corporate boardroom, where you see a “terrible two” tantrum thrust upon employees.

Maybe you’ve experienced a mild case of power-mongering yourself, briefly believing that fear-based motivation would get things done. Then, feeling a bit remorseful, you did a 180 to overcompensate by offering an elaborate employee-appreciation breakfast, complete with chocolate croissants. A week later, you feel you’ve been taken advantage of, work is too relaxed, and you’re losing support. Now you’re questioning those French pastries. This yo-yoing between being a power player and a pushover-pleaser makes your perplexed staff wonder if you’ve fallen victim to pathological mood swings.

As a good manager and coach, should you be liked or feared—or neither?

A recent LinkedIn (LNKD) discussion that I read supported the premise that respect is really the goal. I noticed that most members of the group Human Resource Management felt that in order to garner respect, being liked is indeed better than being feared—but that at times some fear of authority is necessary to get the job done.


One contributor likened the employer-employee relationship to a parent-child scenario: “You may hate me now, but you’ll appreciate me later.” In the business world, the greater good of the company sometimes necessitate unpopular decisions. But managers can’t execute them without a foundation of respect.

How do you earn respect as a manager?

Don’t abuse influence. As a manager in a position of power, you may begin to feel all-knowing. That’s exactly when you need a reality check. Be on the lookout for signs that your staff members are withdrawing, not communicating: “checking out.” If so, you may have tipped the scales to the power-monger side, and it’s time to move to center.

Set the tone. Remember the phrase “stop, look, and listen” that you heard as a child? As simplistic as it sounds, this applies to management as well. Acknowledging the ideas of your team and listening—not just passively hearing—will make you a better manager. “I’ll consider your suggestion” will help everyone become more engaged and productive.

Run a humanized workplace. A humanized workplace is a collaborative environment in which all workers put the good of the company before themselves. It is not a corporate playground rampant with bullying or sandbox politics. You can help lead the way to a respectful workplace that maintains a sense of family or community—a place where management not only tolerates but encourages fun and humor.

Set limits to complacency. There are times when your assertiveness skills will be called into play, particularly when you make decisions that don’t please the crowd or calm the complacent. Team members should see how stagnation hurts the company—and ultimately them. The better you build the bridge between “us and them,” or employee and employer, the more you succeed as a trusted leader.

Understand that no news is bad news. Far more than no feedback at all, an honest one-to-one performance review and ongoing communications will motivate an employee to improve. And it will gain you significant respect as a manager. No news is not good news when it comes to employees. This holds especially true today, when protracted unemployment jitters abound. Fear festers in the absence of information.

Change course when necessary. In an independent national study our company commissioned, 91 percent of workers said that when bosses aren’t afraid to change course after getting employee feedback, it contributes to greater job satisfaction and creates a more “positive, humanistic work environment for workers.” Other leadership traits such as a sense of humor, the ability to inspire others, and receptiveness and thankfulness received virtually equal votes. From 91 percent to 94 percent said they helped improve their work environment.

Stop being a pushover. If you’re not getting the respect you feel you deserve, examine carefully if you’ve been attempting to befriend your staff instead of managing them. If you’re trying too hard to be liked and showing no backbone, you’ll see projects coming in late and overall quality suffering. Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi summed up the coach’s role like this: “The leader … must walk a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert.”

You may not be liked at all times. You may be feared sometimes. But you always want to be revered. Acquiring that reverence is worth your time.

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Lynn Taylor, CEO of Lynn Taylor Consulting, is a nationally recognized workplace expert and author. Her newly released book, Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT): How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job (John Wiley & Sons), advises employees and senior management on how to mitigate difficult boss and office behaviors for increased productivity. Taylor's online community forums and blogs are and


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