‘Loved or feared?’

Finweek English Edition - - BUSINESS TRENDS - ANDILE MAKHOLWA andilem@finweek.co.za

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.

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