In an article entitled “Love and Fear and the Modern Boss” in the Jan edition of Harvard Business Review, Scott Snook writes:
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 thesis is that fear was the dominant model until a generation ago but today’s information economy requires leaders to show a softer side. He claims that the strict rules and productivity metrics typically associated with fear-based leadership are fine for factory assembly lines and risk-averse nuclear power plants but don’t work well for knowledge workers that interact with customers or for creative fields like advertising. To me this is slippery slope thinking and depends on what one means by “productivity metrics”.
If productivity metrics refer to ones that track outputs and not outcomes, that focus on activities and not impact, then I agree. As I’ve argued in the past, contact centers often miss this difference and institute efficiency metrics like ‘average length of call’, hoping to reduce this measure and therefore the number of reps required. Unfortunately, length of call tends to have a negative correlation to customer satisfaction.
Nearly two years ago in Contact Professional, I pointed out that the issue is that efficiency metrics don’t consider the level of service from the customer’s point of view (external perspective, not internal). 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 the exact length of the call.
To me the choice of leadership style is less about stifling metrics and more about how strategy should cascade throughout the organization. This week I’m in D.C. to teach my popular class on cascading during which I’ll claim that there are valid reasons to cascade objectives identically, contributory, shared, or unique. Each of these approaches occupies a different location on the leadership spectrum of fear to love.
Even if my own personal style is probably somewhere right of midpoint on the love side of the spectrum, I would encourage all managers to focus on the notion of alignment. As the old saying goes, love me or fear me but just don’t ignore me.