This is an age long question, made famous by the philosopher Machiavelli. So what kind of leadership style is best? I will now run this question through 3 tests, to get an answer.
1. What is Best for Productivity?
Productivity refers to how efficiently the company produces and sells its products and/or services. Some would argue that a soft leadership style enhances employee’s internal motivation, sense of ownership and autonomy, which in turn increase their productivity. On the other hand, some argue that harder leadership styles better reduces slack and other inefficiencies at work. In other words, both soft and hard leadership can have unintended consequences, with slack being typical of the former, while sabotage and turnover might follow the latter.
2. What is Best for Social Cohesion?
It is very beneficial to act as a unit, since nothing gets done if people pull in different directions. It is well neigh universal to prefer a friendly atmosphere, so one could easily make the case that soft leadership is better for social cohesion. Interestingly, there is strong social cohesion in such disparate organizations like e.g. NGO’s and the army, even though there is a marked difference in leadership style. That is, NGO’s are well known for their altruistic work cultures and rather muted hierarchy. However, some argue that the army work culture shows that hard leadership styles does not necessarily hurt social cohesion. However, one could easily make the case that the army is a very self-selected sample.
3. Are there Industry Differences?
So maybe it is all about the context then? The second test suggest that there might be important industry differences regarding the suitability of soft vis-à-vis hard leadership style. It is difficult to image that a hard leadership style would work in a company where creativity is particularly important, or any other in which regiments and hierarchy is inimical to the work. Granted, the army might be an extreme example of hard leadership working. However, you could make the case that competitive industries like finance and sales generally require a more aggressive work culture. In other words, if the nature of the work situation is similar to the one in the army, then a different leadership style could be warranted.
So, for a leader, is it better to be loved than feared? As usually, it depends on the what the context merits. Also, reflect a bit yourselves, when do you think a soft and/or hard leadership would work?
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