March 05, 2019

Is it better for managers to be feared or respected?

Why you don’t want tough bosses at your company

It seems like every story we hear about a “tough,” disagreeable, or downright aggressive boss always ends the same way: “But they get results.” Over time, this effectiveness has been used to excuse abuse.

Case in point: a blog post on Monster posits that The Devil Wears Prada’s vicious Miranda Priestly was “the best thing that ever happened” to her assistant, portrayed by Anne Hathaway. And an Inc. piece bemoans the death of “the boss,” an archetypal figure who offers tough love (emphasis on the tough). The article even touted a study showing that “disagreeable leaders had higher salaries.” Sounds like an aggressive management approach is a win-win, right? Not so fast.

The truth about harsh leadership

Is the “tough-but-effective” boss a myth?

This week, a New York Times article titled “When the Bully is the Boss examined the pervasive myth of the “tough-but-effective” boss. Ultimately, Benedict Carey writes, there’s no evidence that the tough approach actually works. One study after another has failed to prove that a rough deskside manner is correlated to organizational success.

What’s more, we know that manager relationships are one of the main drivers of turnover. You’ve heard it before: “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” And even if they don’t leave, employees are measurably less productive and engaged when they’re dealing with manager conflict, Gallup writes. “Companies must demand that every team in their workforce have a great manager.”

“One study after another has failed to prove that a rough deskside manner is correlated to organizational success.”

Gallup goes on to define a great manager as someone who can play to individual strengths, “boldly” provide feedback, rally their team around a cause, and “execute efficient processes.” So while a bully-as-boss might achieve the “feared” status that Machiavelli endorsed, it’s less likely that they’ll succeed in inspiring innovation and engagement.

Be respected, not feared.

As you think about developing your managers and setting them up for success, here are four tips from our Pros:

  1. Show them how to build trust. Help your managers understand the value of presenting themselves as someone who stays true to their word. Communicate truthfully – show your team that you’re willing to close the Conversation Gap.
  2. Teach them to create space. Focus on creating a top-down culture that gives people room to use their voices and to succeed. Be open to new ideas rather than shutting them down.
  3. Emphasize communication. Teach your managers to share their strengths, weaknesses and preferred working styles, and encourage their teams to do the same.
  4. Make empathy mandatory. Assume that everyone on your team has good intent. When there’s disagreement, make an effort to see the other person’s side. Sometimes this means asking open-ended questions, and it always means listening.

Request a Bravely demo to see for yourself how our Pros can help you develop managers to close the Conversation Gap.

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