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Is It Better to Be Feared or Loved in Corporate America?

I know, I know.  The cliche is that it's better to be feared, right?  Would you believe that an expert along the lines of Machiavelli disagrees at times?  Here's what Machiavelli has to say about protection against conspiracies in the Prince, which are plots to hurt someone on some level and reduce their power.

Being feared, Machiavelli says, is an important protection against a conspiracy.  But the ultimate protection, he says, is to be well liked.  Not simply because people who love you are less likely to take you down, but because they are less likely to tolerate anyone else trying to take you down. If a prince guards himself against that hatred, Machiavelli writes, "simple particular offenses will make trouble for him...because if they were even of spirit and had the power to do it, they are held back by the universal benevolence that they see the prince has." The prince

The problem with power on any level in an organization is that you have to make tough decisions.  Tough decisions ultimately hurt someone and cause enemies to be made.  In that circumstance, having the vast majority love you does seem to offer some protection against those who would want to harm you career-wise.

But Machiavelli is a bit of a thick read and contradicts himself from time to time, including this additional passage on the being feared vs being hated:

Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.

I'd add to this and say that if it's power you want to hold in an organization - it's better to be in the extremes - you either want to be feared or loved.  The middle isn't going to do you much good.

Which brings us to who you are behaviorally, right?  If it is power you have and it's easier for you to be hated than loved, than you should go with it.   Nice guy or gal? Let your benevolence shine through like the flashlight on your iPhone.

Do you want to be loved or hated?  Do you and don't be someone you're not.




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The tough thing is you actually CAN get results through fear. In my experience though, you get a bunch of people trying not to fail, and you're lucky if you get their B game. If you want great ideas and superhuman effort, you better be likeable. Yeah, there are the exceptions like Jobs, but he had some other intangibles.

I leave you with some lyrics from Bob Schneider's "Orlando" in response to Machiavelli.

I don't want to do a damn thing
And I want to be appreciated
And I want to get paid well
I don't want to be hated
I don't want to do a damn thing
Except lie in the sun
And be loved, loved, loved, loved, loved by everyone

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