In an article recently published on, Video Arts’ Martin Addison, discussed whether it is better for leaders to be loved or feared. As he wrote, this is not a new debate. It was first posed 500 years ago, in 1512, by Niccolò Machiavelli.


Niccolò Machiavelli.



Machiavelli, a civil servant in the Florentine Republic, was accused of conspiracy and imprisoned. To win favour with Lorenzo de Medici, he wrote a book called The Prince, which was a guide to creating and keeping hold of a principality.


In his book, Machiavelli said that it’s desirable for a leader to be both loved and feared. However, as this is difficult to achieve, it’s safer to be feared than to be loved. Above all, a prince should strive to avoid being hated. He stated: ‘Friendships that are won by rewards – and not by greatness and nobility – can’t be depended upon in times of adversity. Men have less hesitation in offending one who makes himself loved than one who is feared. For love holds through a bond of obligation. This can be broken whenever it’s in the obliged party’s interests. But fear holds by the apprehension of punishment, which is something that never leaves men.’


Addison believes that this issue is valid for today’s leaders because whether you’re loved or feared will sit at the heart of your leadership style and it will affect the culture of the entire organisation. He argues that leading through fear is possible in a hierarchical, highly structured organisation but concludes that, in a customer-driven organisation, this approach will be less effective. Being ‘loved’ as a leader has advantages in empowering people with freedom and responsibility so they can take initiatives and be creative. People will only dare to perform to the best of their ability, or go the extra mile for you, if they feel trusted and respected.


Comment: It’s not just business leaders who agonise, from time to time, over whether they’re loved or feared. No one likes to be hated – unless they’re a pantomime villain – but, worst of all, is to fail to arouse any emotion in those with whom you live and work, regardless of your position. Ultimately, it’s better to be loved or feared than ignored.