Engagement or Intimidation: Is it Safer to be Feared or Loved?

Is it Safer to be Feared or Loved?

Have you noticed disconnection within your team and workplace? This becomes evident with increased rumours, high stress levels, signs of a struggling manager, low employee morale, no regular meetings and no clarity on future directions! With increased remote working, this has placed even more emphasis on the need for engagement and connection. Leadership in organisations needs to be built with the “right foundations” seeing the world through the eyes of others, creating a shared sense of purpose, a culture of kindness at work and connection!

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

Empathy is important for connecting with the people you lead

A January 2019 Linkedin articleConnect, Then Lead: The Ultimate Leadership Lesson” shows that new demands from the emerging millennial workforce are causing leadership to rethink its approach. Leaders have a vital role to play in fostering a strong and enduring culture. At such a time, leadership has never been more important nor challenging in business. But, what is leadership influence in real terms? Here is what you can do to build the influence you need to drive performance:

  • Listen, Actively
  • Be Humble
  • Be Empathic

Some of us have the idea that great leaders need only be strong personalities. On the contrary, research indicates that competent people lacking warmth often illicit resentment. And the inverse is less surprising; warm, incompetent people illicit pity. But a key takeaway is that empathy is important for connecting with the people you lead. Nothing is more inspiring than a leader who is empathic. As a leader, you can also show empathy by seeing the world through the eyes of others and creating a shared sense of purpose in your team or organisation. This extends your capacity to understand patterns in a complex business environment and relate to other people’s perspectives. Creating a shared sense of purpose enables you to harness your employees’ synergies.

It is much safer to be feared than loved!

In a HBR article “Connect, Then Lead” the question is asked Is it better to be loved or feared? Niccolò Machiavelli pondered that timeless conundrum 500 years ago and hedged his bets. “It may be answered that one should wish to be both,” he acknowledged, “but because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.” Behavioural science is showing that Machiavelli had it partly right: When we judge others—especially our leaders—we look first at two characteristics: how lovable they are (their warmth, communion, or trustworthiness) and how fearsome they are (their strength, agency, or competence). Why are these traits so important? Because they answer two critical questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “Is he or she capable of acting on those intentions?” So which is better, being lovable or being strong? Most leaders today tend to emphasize their strength, competence, and credentials in the workplace, but that is exactly the wrong approach. Leaders who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear and along with it a host of dysfunctional behaviours. A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals—a nod, a smile, an open gesture—can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. Prioritising warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.

Connect with people, show them you care and they will follow

My blog From Bushfires Generosity to Coronavirus Greed” showed great examples of how the whole of Australia came together to support those who’d suffered. It also showed how crisis can impact people in a negative way and what we can learn from this. Times of crisis emphasises the importance of connection with others. By making this connection and through these little moments of kindness and empathy, we bring back our humanity and keep our spirits up. The same can be said for leaders too taking this initiative. Not just being a leader in the community, demonstrating kind behaviour, but leaders in workplaces as well. It’s so critical that leaders continue to practice courage, kindness and connection so that positivity reigns and things can continue as normally as possible.

You need to be brave enough to be honest with your team about the effect of a crisis on your business. It means being empathetic when you’re forced to reduce hours, or a team member is expressing concern about the virus. We can change the way our teams cope with a crisis by leading by example; being kind and brave is what we should strive for at all times, not just now.

Finally pick up the phone and start connecting with others and ask them if they need help or if they are okay. This is the time we all need connection.

Leadership isn’t easy and sometimes we need help. I am always here.

Connect then Lead.

– Sonia McDonald

Get in touch today to learn more about how to build leadership skills for a human connection and set yourself up for success!

Stay Kind. Stay Courageous.

Sonia x

About The Author Sonia McDonald And LeadershipHQ

Sonia McDonald is the CEO and founder of LeadershipHQ and McDonald Inc. Sonia is a in demand keynote speaker, leadership coach and advisor, author and facilitator.

She believes we should lead with kindness and courage, from the heart, doing rather than telling and is known for her mantra ‘just lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her one on one practical coaching, leadership training for teams and organisations encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped hundreds of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others. Also she and her team have worked and partnered with a number of businesses and companies for over a decade build great leadership teams and cultures.

For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of Human Resources, Leadership and People and Culture. She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader.

Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is recognised as a LinkedIn influencer and has become an in-demand keynote speaker, starts important conversations.

She is an award-winning published author of Leadership Attitude and Just Rock It! and writes regularly for publications such as The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, championing the up and coming leaders of tomorrow, advocating for women in business as well as building leaders in small business.

Sonia will give you peace of mind when booking a speaker. She is a proven world-class professional speaker with the skills to “rock an audience”. Her energy, empathy, kindness, sensitivity, and humour will enhance any event she appears.

Phone 1300 719 665



About LeadershipHQ

Outstanding Leadership Starts With You.

The key to success today is Great Leadership. Your leaders lead your culture and it’s the culture which drives your strategy.

We partner with organisations and businesses to grow great, kind and courageous leaders through bespoke leadership development programs and individual and group coaching – face-to-face and online.

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If you are a great leader or organisation, who wants to be even greater, we’d love to work with you.

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