Should you love or fear the boss?
Five hundred years ago, Niccolò Machiavelli posed the question of whether it is better for a leader to be loved or feared, concluding that if you can’t be both (and few people can), being feared is more effective.
Snook’s basic thesis is fear was the dominant management model until a generation ago but that today’s information economy requires leaders to show a softer side. He claims the strict rules and productivity metrics typically associated with fear-based leadership might work for factory assembly lines and risk-averse nuclear power plants but are not appropriate for knowledge workers who interact with customers or for creative fields like advertising. Although Snook doesn’t say it explicitly, he seems to be supporting Deming’s recommendation to eliminate management by objectives.
In both cases, the challenge with strict rules and productivity measures is they tend to measure outputs of activities instead of outcomes which deliver impact. Contact centers often miss this difference and choose metrics like ‘average length of call.’ Unfortunately, length of call tends to have a negative correlation to customer satisfaction. Customers care more about how long they have to wait to get their question answered and whether they get the right answers the first time, than they do about length of the call.
To me, the choice of leadership style is less about whether employees love or fear the boss and more about when to institute tight controls and when to have looser ones. When I teach my class on cascading strategy, I claim there are valid reasons to use multiple approaches: identical, shared, contributory, or unique. These four approaches occupy a spectrum of tighter to looser controls.
My own management style is probably somewhere in the middle of this spectrum with an emphasis on a few looser controls. As a result, I tend to choose more contributory and unique cascades. However, in times of crisis, I find myself switching to identical and shared objectives. In each case, I’m sending a signal as to what the highest priorities are at that moment in time.
The most important role of a leader is to ensure the organization is aligned on priorities. Perhaps this is the performance management reinterpretation of the old saying: love me or fear me but just don’t ignore me.