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Leadership and the Fear Factor

The ability to generate an emotional response is the key to any leader's success. But does the nature of the emotion matter? The current wisdom holds that command and control is dead; employees must be empowered to act on their own. They are team members, not subordinates. Even more, they are "family," working together in a "community." The language of love -- as in, "I love my people" -- has become the acceptable, even preferred managerial idiom.

It's hard to escape the feeling that fear is still an important reality in the world of work, however. Not just fear of layoffs, which are often a matter of cyclical downturns and global disruptions. The issue is good old-fashioned fear of the boss, driven by the knowledge that one's performance will be judged by the highest standards and that failure to meet a high level of achievement will not be tolerated for long. Isn't such fear a necessary -- even a healthy -- component of many a company in today's ultracompetitive world?

Niccolo Machiavelli took on these questions centuries ago in the course of writing The Prince, famously advising at one point, "It is better to be feared than loved." SMR asked three experts to reconsider that notion in the context of modern management and leadership.

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