‘Loved or feared?’
NUMEROUS ACADEMIC studies have shown the most effective leaders are generally those who give employees a voice, treat them with dignity and consistency and base decisions on accurate and complete information. But there’s a hidden cost to that behaviour, a new study by the Harvard Business Review has reported. “We’ve found that although fair managers earn respect, they’re seen as less powerful than other managers – less in control of resources, less able to reward and punish – and that may hurt their odds of attaining certain key, contentious leadership roles,” states the report.
The research, which included lab studies and responses from hundreds of corporate decision-makers and employees, began with the age-old question: “Should leaders be loved or feared?” It went a step further, asking: “Can you have respect and power?” It found it’s hard to gain both.
It discovered decisions about high-level promotions most often centre on perceptions of power, not of fairness. As such, managers who display toughness in their dealings with employees often climb the corporate ladder faster than those considered fair.
The report established managers don’t always behave fairly, because doing so would clearly not benefit their organisations. However, it concedes studies show the success of change initiatives depends largely on fair implementation. The research suggests that managers see respect and power as two mutually exclusive avenues to influence – and many choose the latter. Nevertheless, companies can benefit from placing more value on fairness when assessing managerial performance. “Our early follow-up research suggests managers whose style is based on respect can gain power. Their path upward may be difficult but it’s one worth taking – for their company’s sake as well as their own.”
Managers whose style is based on fairness can still gain power under the following circumstances: When they cultivate a reputation for ethics and morality. When the organisational culture is highly co-operative. When they’re going for positions that are relatively uncontentious and that draw on their mentoring and collaborative skills.