This question has plagued scholars for centuries so it’s probably unrealistic to expect a definitive answer from a blog post (or indeed most leadership and management courses.)
What you can look forward to, however, is a breakdown of the history behind this question, what your professional life could be like on either side of the divide and some of the defining characteristics of a good leader.
Let’s start, as indeed it all did, with Niccolò Machiavelli.
History of leadership
We’re starting with Machiavelli because he first posed this question shortly after he was slung in the clink by the head of Italy’s ruling family about 500 years ago. It formed part of his opus The Prince, a veritable handbook on leadership and management skills, which he composed to appease his oppressors after they decided he was brimming with treachery.
While he concluded that the ideal is to be loved and feared simultaneously, he also added that if you had to choose one then the latter is preferable:
“Men have less hesitation in offending one who makes himself loved than one who is feared. For love holds through a bond of obligation, which can be broken whenever it is in the interests of the obliged party. But fear holds by the apprehension of punishment, which is something that never leaves men.”
Can every senior manager in the land draw a line under this debate and start preparing their larynx for some hardcore rollockings? Erm, no.
As countless leaders and managers throughout history can attest, ruling with fear has its benefits — but times change. The threat of punishment can work wonders for short-term motivation and co-operation. However, it can also create a toxic environment that stifles innovation because nobody can afford to be wrong. Staff are also less likely to identify with an angry line manager and that can cause problems when those in charge need a favour.
Is it time, then, to switch to team ‘love’? Not necessarily. While this may deliver a safe space that fosters creativity and collaboration, it also creates an environment in which leaders have less authority. This scenario can quickly become all too pally and that opens the door to lax standards.
If you can find a way to have a foot in each camp, you’re in good shape. If you can’t, you might want to work out what else you can do to develop the skills needed to be an effective team leader lest you wind up exactly where you don’t want to be: hated.
What makes great leadership?
If you’re already well-versed on the skills needed to be a leader for the ages, then this next section probably isn’t for you. But considering you’ve made it this far and we still have so much to say on the matter, we figured we’d share some hallmarks of what it takes to be a great leader.
Creativity and innovation
Effective leaders understand every business needs novel thinking. They will develop a safe space where there is no such thing as a foolish idea. Effective leaders refrain from applying time pressure to creativity and they reward colleagues for taking ownership of their problems.
Knowing how to react when things don’t go to plan can be the difference between a blip and a catastrophe. Losing your cool in front of staff can cause irreparable damage. Effective leaders:
- React quickly: Stop the problem from worsening and take responsibility for devising a solution.
- Communicate fully: Establish who needs to be kept informed (staff, customers, suppliers, authorities) and waste no time in bringing the relevant parties up to speed.
We’re sorry to be blasphemous to centuries of English culture but, sometimes, ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ is not the way to go. Emotional intelligence is about addressing your emotions and managing those of the people around you. Good leaders consider how others will react before they do. They are also self-aware and conscious of the impact emotional impulses can have on behaviour; they possess the requisite tools to regulate their moods.
Diversity and inclusion
You don’t (or shouldn’t) need a diploma in strategic management and leadership to know that diversity is not box ticking. Good leaders look beyond ‘obligations’ and are intentional in their attempts to foster inclusivity and a sense of belonging. This is not a one-time event and has to be something you’re always one step ahead of.
Good leaders aim to build teams that are so proficient they require little to no direction. This achieved in four stages:
- Forming: Establish objectives, delegate responsibilities and build relationships.
- Storming: Resolve conflict, remain resolute in the face of challenges and provide support when needed.
- Norming: Step back and pass responsibilities to the team. Address difficult issues and don’t pull your punches.
- Performing: Recognise telling contributions and award credit where it’s due.
Curating a learning culture
L&D is proven to keep teams engaged, on track and trending upwards. Leaders set the tone and remove the barriers standing between learners and the resources they need. Effective leaders are always ready to provide (and listen to) feedback. Knowledge sharing between staff isn’t encouraged — it’s mandatory. How else are you going to get the chance to hear what great ideas Steve in IT has to offer?
Suggested reading: Fancy a deep dive on this one? Check out this article on how to create a culture conducive to learning.
Leadership sins: what to avoid
This list could go on for days but we’re not trying to run the institute of leadership and management out of town in a blog post so here’s a handful of traits you absolutely should not have:
- Swerving conflict: Leaders are not afraid of challenging even the highest performing member of a team if their actions are detrimental to the group.
- Micromanagement: This is counterproductive, it erodes morale and can push staff towards the exit.
- Vanity: Good leaders don’t make every scenario about themselves and they never act in their own self-interests.
- Dithering: Ponder and fret over big decisions and watch team confidence fade.
- Wanting to be loved: Good leaders are not people-pleasers and are prepared to make unpopular — but necessary — decisions.
How Video Arts can help
In case you missed out on the birthday invite, Video Arts has recently turned 50 years old! We’ve spent the last half-century empowering business leaders, so we know a thing or two about management, learning, and leadership. Our materials feature tried-and-tested advice alongside the very latest thinking.
There are three ways you can tap this resource:
- An array of off-the-shelf leadership courses: This is the quickest and most cost-effective way to get leadership training underway. These courses work with every LMS/LXP so deployment is a cinch.
- Semi-custom content: If you’re into aligning learning materials with learner goals (and the evidence suggests you should be), then we can give you access to our iFrame library. Reap the benefits of embedded video — which allows learning designers to use premade video as the building blocks of courses they author — to create customised learning pathways at an affordable rate.
- Bespoke content: If you want to create resources that are 100% personalised, aligned to your goals, and provide the very best learning experience, we can create bespoke content that ensures your delivery is laser-focussed.
Suggested reading: Not quite sure which one you fancy? Maybe it’s time you took a closer look at customised learning.
Each award-winning, engaging piece of our library features the brightest minds (and most recognisable faces) in British comedy, so learner engagement is a given. All you have to do now is get in touch. If you’ve been paying attention, you won’t dither.