Is it better to be feared or to be liked?
Many believe that a good leader knows how to answer this question, and that he/she should answer it a certain way. If somebody answers “liked,” then it must mean that person is weak and doesn’t have the ability to make difficult decisions. But if somebody answers “feared,” then it means that the person is strong and capable of making the tough decisions that come along with leadership. Right?
Wrong. It is exactly this type of binary mindset that is weak.
A true leader knows that being respected is better than being feared and/or liked. If a leader fails to recognize this, then he/she suffers from narrow-mindedness and may not be leader material. This quality is one of the many characteristics of weak leaders.
A good example of this is the way many Americans viewed Hillary Clinton in the months leading up to the Democratic presidential primary election in 2008. During an event in New Hampshire, Clinton shed tears while discussing the upcoming election against future United States President Barack Obama. The incident was caught on camera and broadcast on several news stations, dividing the public into two groups: people who believed Mrs. Clinton’s tears were endearing and showed courage, and people who believed her tears filled her eyes with cowardice and soaked her face in vulnerability. Obama won the primary, as well as the presidential election later that year.
Now, we are not necessarily declaring Hillary Clinton a weak leader. She simply serves as an example of the way displaying one’s emotions can change the opinions of the people.
If a leader is unable to communicate his/her mission to followers, then the odds of achieving that goal are slim to none. For example, Ron Johnson became the CEO of J. C. Penney in November of 2011 and the company fired him less than two years later in April of 2013. Johnson was previously successful as the Vice President of Merchandising at Target and the Senior Vice President of Retail Operations at Apple, but his success did not continue at his new company.
Johnson’s failure at J. C. Penney can be attributed to his poor communication skills because he was unable to explain exactly what his mission was and exactly he planned on making it a reality. Since he couldn’t communicate his revolutionary strategy to employees, the employees failed to communicate this plan to customers. So Ron Johnson’s rebranding effort ended up alienating core customers because they couldn’t understand why J. C. Penney was changing everything they liked about the store. The coupons and sales soon came back, replacing Johnson’s new policy, and not long after, the company replaced Ron Johnson as well.
Weak leaders tend to hesitate when making decisions, and some fail to stand behind those decisions after they have already been made. A good leader keeps an open mind, considers all different points of view, and makes decisions with confidence. Hesitation and second-guessing only lead to a lack of support from followers and ultimate failure.
The reason we learn about history in school is so that we don’t repeat the mistakes from our pasts. Of course, we must know and understand how and why we made these mistakes to avoid making the same ones in the future.
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