Niccolò Machiavelli was a political theorist from the Renaissance period. In his most notable work, The Prince, he writes, "It is better to be feared than to be loved, if one cannot be both." He argues that fear is a better motivator than love, which is why it is the more effective tool for leaders. But is that really the case in today's modern workplace? Let's look at both ends of the spectrum to find out.


To be feared

Leaders that are feared are perceived to wield more power by their employees. They are figures of authority who often give out harsh punishments and very little rewards. When employees are motivated by fear, they're more likely to push themselves to be efficient and avoid error, to avoid being punished. However, while it can improve performance, fear creates a shaky relationship between leaders and their employees.

Moreover, a workforce that is driven by fear will be less likely to take risks as they worry about the consequences of their mistakes. It leads to a lack of psychological safety or the freedom to act without fear of negative consequences. This results in decreased creativity and productivity. Therefore, a culture of fear can inhibit learning and development.


"A workforce that is driven by fear will be less likely to take risks as they worry about the consequences of their mistakes."

To be loved

In contrast, leaders that are loved focus on taking care of their employees, creating a stronger employer-employee bond. This kind of relationship brings forth a culture of respect in the workplace. It promotes teamwork and productivity. Additionally, it makes employees feel valued, which can help in creating a healthy work environment and boost the company's employee retention.

However, this also results in leaders having decreased disciplinary power over their team. It makes employees less likely to listen to their seniors or respect their authority. In some cases, they may start slacking off and foregoing rules.

Striking the Right Balance

Going back to Machiavelli's quote, is it truly better to be feared than loved? It seems unlikely. Then is it better to be loved than feared? Again, that doesn't seem to be the case. Company executives need to strike a good balance between the two to be good leaders because going from one extreme to the next can prove detrimental to the company.

How, then, can companies work towards finding a happy medium between love and fear? For one, leaders need to be clear about office roles. As the superior, one way you can still show that you care for employees is by praising and rewarding their efforts. Ensure that they have the right benefits. Give them more flexibility as needed without indulging their every request (but, of course, be reasonable). You can gain still the trust and admiration of your employees by showing that you're an empathetic leader, and that you're a leader that they actually want to work hard for.

It's also important to evaluate the current state of the company, to pinpoint whether it is already burdened by a culture of fear. Human resources managers are essential and are in a position to fix this culture. They can work to ensure that company leaders aren't reliant on fear tactics. 


As one of the more people-driven careers in business administration, HR managers are trained to guide, communicate, and oversee their fellow team members. They serve as an indispensable link between executives and their employees. This is why they play such a big role in correcting a fear-based work culture. HR managers provide avenues where employees can share their feedback, without fear of repercussion from their seniors. This gives them an insight into how each department functions and helps them pinpoint what's causing the culture of fear. With this data, HR managers can then hold a meeting with the company executives to discuss employee concerns and look for possible solutions.

Leadership is complicated. And the talk of fear and love only scratches the surface of this broad subject. It also calls for a high level of awareness, prudence in making decisions, and dedication, among other things. Although, there are a few basic tenets that make an effective leader, check out our article on the three key areas of great leadership to learn more. After all, being loved or feared isn't enough.

A good leader should also lead with purpose.


Written by: Lily Nathan 

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