Note: Inc.'s Ask a Twentysomething series offers sage advice for navigating all manner of workplace issues, from the perspective of a young employee.
Dear Twentysomething: I'm about to start managing a large team of junior staffers, and I want to set an ideal tone. Will today's young employees respond better if I try to make them love me, or fear me?
Niccolo Machiavelli famously addressed a version of this question in The Prince, concluding you should aim to achieve both--erring toward the side of fear. But he was a pretty evil guy, and he lived 500 years ago. So, it's fair to say that it's time for an update.
Let's start by setting some ground rules. When we talk about "love" and "hate," we're dealing in real-life workplaces, not some extreme Glengarry Glen Ross scenario. Trying to become loved shouldn't turn you into a total pushover who OK's every crazy expense report or month-long vacation request. Trying to become feared shouldn't turn you into a monster who throws books at employees' heads.
In general, though, which is more effective: the carrot or the stick? Admittedly, it's hard to answer for an entire generation. Everyone is motivated differently, regardless of age or workplace experience, and you should spend a few weeks learning about your employees to assess what each of them will respond to best. Personally, I'm deeply internally motivated, which makes me the kind of employee who reacts better to love.
If you try to make me fear you, your message is going to get old. Quickly. Any critical feedback you offer will get drowned out by the voice in my own head, and any legitimately useful feedback will get lost. But if you succeed at making me love and trust you, your constructive criticism will stand out to me in flashing neon lights. It's the scarcity principle. Basic economics.
You don't have to sacrifice your authority for this. "Tough but fair" is a perfectly valid leadership archetype. As long as you don't end up on the flip-side of the scarcity approach, where you occasionally drop morsels of praise just to keep employees forever seeking your approval.
That's an unkind way to manage people, and ultimately, it'll hurt your business. Your workers will realize how they've been manipulated when they finally leave to go elsewhere. If and when they talk about your company to prospective hires, it won't be positive. Don't forget, the business world is small. You might run into them again, and there's no point to needlessly burning bridges.
"But it'll get results," you say! I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Just last week, my Inc.com colleague Jessica Stillman wrote about a new study from the University of Oxford's Saïd Business School on the link between productivity and happiness. Her takeaway was as simple as it gets: "Happier workers perform better than unhappy ones." Thirteen percent better, to be specific, according to the study.
So, for me, love trumps fear. But while I've still got you here, I want to offer one more piece of advice: Don't overthink this. If you're a naturally likable person, you don't need to actively cultivate fear--and if you're a bit of an intimidating person, you don't need to overcorrect and invite your employees to walk all over you.
Just be yourself. Be open to feedback. And keep me posted--I'd love to hear about how it goes.
To submit a question for Ask a Twentysomething, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Your query could be featured in a future installment.