Is It Better to Be Feared or Loved As a Leader?

In his book, "The Prince," Niccolo Machiavelli argues that it is ultimately better to be feared than loved as a leader, although he notes that being loved and feared at the same time would be ideal, albeit unlikely. His argument is based on a view of people as essentially self-serving. If they see an opportunity to further their own interests, even at the expense of loyalty or love, only fear of repercussions will hold them back.

Many economists agree with Machiavelli's assessment, observing that the most powerful factor in motivating people is the fear of loss, a phenomenon referred to as "loss aversion." Economist John List suggests that employers use people's loss aversion to their advantage by issuing bonuses to employees with a warning that they will be taken back if targets are not met.

The question of whether it is better to be loved or feared as a leader is also relevant in the context of education. In former times, it was common for teachers to invoke obedience from their students by hitting them. Nowadays, it is understood that fear-based discipline, such as this stifles creativity and learning.

If creativity is a desirable trait among students or employees, then fear is not likely to be an effective tool in motivation.