The Line Between Respect and Fear

A leader needs the respect of their people. But do they also need their people to fear them? At least a little? 

 

It wasn’t too many years ago that one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies sent all of their new managers through what they called “Fear School.” It was designed to teach the new managers methods for instilling fear into their employees. 

 

That company believed that while respected leaders were a “nice to have” feared leaders were a “must have.” They knew that fear was a powerful motivator and it worked for them. Or at least it appeared to work. 

 

What they succeeded in doing was forcing the compliance of their people. Compliant people can produce immediate results that sometimes leads to short-term progress. Fear appears to create a sense of urgency in people but it’s not really urgency, it’s anxiety. That anxiety creates a lot of activity but very little productivity. 

 

People who are led by fear tend to live in survival mode. They aren’t interested in what’s best for the company or it’s customers. They are concerned with their own well-being and not making waves that could swamp them. Their focus is on themselves not the organization and that is not a recipe for success. 

 

Fear kills! It kills trust. It kills creativity. It kills communication. It kills good decision making. It kills action. 

 

Lead on fear long enough and you’ll kill your organization. 

 

While fear can force at least temporary compliance only respect can earn the commitment of your people. 

 

Leaders who earn the respect of their people have the opportunity to make them better. Respected leaders inspire their people to do more, be more and accomplish more. People who respect their leaders don’t feel the need to watch their backs. Instead they focus on the customer to make sure they are taken care of as well.

 

Earning respect comes from showing respect so Authentic Leaders put their people first. They build the trust necessary to create clear, open and effective communication. These leaders are not afraid to admit when they are wrong and they never dump the blame for their mistake on someone else. 

 

Respected leaders have to opportunity to build more leaders. Fear-based leaders can only hope to hang onto the followers they have. While respected leaders grow, fear-based leaders eventually just go. Go away that is. 

 

And yet the temptation for many a leader is to believe that they still need their people to fear them at least a little bit. If you’re one of those leaders I’d say to you to make certain that your fear-based leadership is not just a cover up for your own fear and insecurity. You may think you’re hiding beneath layers of intimidation and authority but eventually you’ll be discovered to be just another person with a leadership position who doesn’t lead at all.


If you’re going to truly lead you’ll need to risk allowing your people to see you fail from time to time. So stop with the fear tactics. Begin developing a strategy for building the trust of your people. You’ll soon discover that respect grows best when fertilized with that very same trust.