There is always a debate on what is the best type of leadership style to be used – and the answer I often get is, it depends on the type of subordinates and work environment one finds themselves as a leader.
Though there is a different array of leadership styles to choose from, our societal values and personal principles (be it religious or cultural) always have a way of creeping in and, hence influencing our day-to-day running of our institutions.
Unfortunately, leaders always end up clashing with the universal values, ethics and policies – as far as the constitution and universal laws are concerned.
For example, it is hard for one to justify autocratic leadership in a Namibian public institution, as the fact remains that these institutions are established and rooted in the values of democracy.
Italian philosopher and historian Niccolò Machiavelli’s assertion on leadership is that, as a leader, it is better to be widely feared than to be greatly loved. He also believed, a loved ruler retains authority by obligation, while a feared leader rules by fear of punishment (Hutchings, 2006).
Though he is considered, as one of the greatest philosophers, it is sad for those who still believe in his philosophy, because the world has evolved – and many universal principles and norms have been developed since his time; circumstances have also changed drastically.
In the modern day, such types of leaders praised by the Machiavellism philosophy are considered tyrants and will find it hard to keep their followers in check, as many of them (followers) have now undergone some awakening, and have been directly or indirectly influenced by political literature that came after that of Niccolò.
For instance, that of John Locke and Rosseau, who are more democratic oriented.
Therefore, such types of leaders eventually face rebellion and uprising, and they are destined for their demise. There are many examples we can draw from, starting from Mussolini, Hitler and Idi Amin of Uganda. The list goes on and on.
Machiavelli’s belief in leadership is not far-fetched from many of the African leadership style(s) as this has been a norm for centuries in all African traditional setups, where leaders demand this utmost “godly” powers and obedience from their subjects.
There is a whole notion of ‘Big I, and little you, so you are beneath me’.
They have this ego of maintaining their higher pedestal.
It is also a sad reality that, this leadership style has spilt over in the modern-day democratic setups – be it in public governance, religious institutions, political parties, private organisations and whatever the set-up may be.
Often, these types of leaders demand obedience and respect they have not earned. One might say, they demonstrate the literary meaning of ruling with an iron fist. They expect and require their subjects to fear them, which, in turn, breeds conflict and rebellion.
A feared leader will not achieve a willingness response and effort from his/her followers, as they will never believe him/her, have confidence, nor trust him/her. There is a significant difference between servitude and followership as Al Nolf (2019) alludes.
AL Nolf (2019) also says: “A respected leader is seen by all as the authority figure and is consciously approved. More is done for him/her than is required, followers are happy, more open, and they are willing to obey and contribute to the group. A respected leader encourages his/her followers to succeed, rather than punishing them for every indiscretion, error or loss”.
Feared leaders demand more than they cultivate. They are obsessed with authority and personal integrity then the vision and mission of the organisation. In turn, this creates what Guess (2014) terms as “paycheck employees”.
By this, he means employees who just work for the sake of getting a salary – not for achieving the goals of the institution. Furthermore, feared leaders, are always insecure that their subordinates are planning and conniving against them, whereby they end up being insecure and hallucinating about what their subordinates might do to bring them down.
On the other hand, a respected leader builds his people, and earns their respect each day. He does not ask for love nor demands anyone to love him/her. His/her leadership is supported and reciprocated by all those who know and respect him/her (Al Nolf, 2019).
In conclusion, leaders should cultivate love and respect, but at the same time maintain boundaries that would ensure respect is not lost on them – by showing a great deal of modelling and exemplary in everything they do – and this should be reciprocated by their subordinates.