‘To be or not to be: Should leaders be nasty or nice?
In the consulting I do for businesses, I find that leaders are increasingly wary of being nasty. They go on courses to develop their emotional intelligence. They subject themselves to feedback from their peers. They read books on how to motivate their staff. They’re getting a lot nicer. But is that a good thing?
The debate has a noble antecedent in Machiavelli, of course. He argued it was better to be feared than loved, but since then the forces of democracy, modernity and celebrity have reversed the equation. A case point would be Vladimir Putin, who has to struggle against his inner Stalin, and overcompensates by showing off his torso in the hope of adoration. Modern leaders love to be loved.
In a business context, however, this can be unhelpful. A business exists to generate value in the form of a product of service. Generating it is what we call work. The fundamental role of the leader therefore is to secure the greatest value for the least work, a mixture of effectiveness with efficiency. That leader might not need to be nasty as such, but he or she does need to be a pretty steely technocrat.
But the niceness of modern leaders is not an end in itself. It’s a technique aimed at making the workforce more efficient-the nicer I am, the harder they’ll work. After all, if niceness isn’t aimed at that, it’s kind of irrelevant. The same goes for nastiness too; if it doesn’t help the business, it’s just bullying.’
(Smith, R. R. 2005. To be or not to be: Should leaders be nasty or nice? The Sunday Times, 27 February. (Kindle Edition))