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Should You Be Loved or Feared?

Is being liked or feared the best strategy for the modern workplace manager?

“Office Space” office manager Bill Lumbergh inflicts leadership on Peter.

“Office Space” office manager Bill Lumbergh inflicts leadership on Peter.

Is being liked or feared the best strategy for the modern workplace manager? The answer, according to two researchers who studied 51,836 leaders, is that an unlikable leader has only a 1 in 2,000 chance of being successful. So according to Joseph Folkman and Jack Zenger, of the Harvard Business Review, you want to be liked, but you have to follow that up with competence.

Folkman and Zenger attribute the success of likable managers to their probability of holding onto high-performing employees. That meshes with a Gallup survey that found almost 50 percent of those questioned had left a job purely because of a bad boss. Likable leaders also have more success leading team members through workplace transitions and reorganizations, because the trust they inspire helps employees actually want to change or learn a new skill, the researchers found.

Digging further, the two researchers divided well-liked bosses into what they called “drivers,” who set clear goals and get workers to stretch themselves beyond what they’re comfortable doing, and “enhancers” who excel at giving feedback, serving as role models and developing trust. Good bosses have to combine elements of both subsets.

Their research suggested the payoff for being a good boss is immense. People working for a bad boss were unhappier than three-quarters of the 160,576 employees involved, while employees with excellent bosses responded with higher commitment levels than eight out of 10 of their peers.

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