Leadership & Ethics

Leadership vs Likership

By Robert Gibson April 27, 2021


This article is written to discuss leadership styles and redefine the term ‘likership’. It will firstly discuss my own internal struggle with defining my leadership style as an Officer Commanding. This is at a time mid-way through sub-unit command and therefore the article should be read as an internal reflection. It will note some of the revelations I have had when trying to determine if being liked as a leader can detriment my effectiveness as a leader. It will discuss the difference between love and fear of a commander and how each can be harnessed within a given leadership model. The article will then argue that liked leaders are more effective than those that are not and provide evidence as to why this is the case. It will conclude by providing a framework for the development of your own leadership style, noting that no single commander is perfect and no single style is correct.

Internal Reflection

I recall reading an Australian Army publication about command and leadership that I read shortly prior to undertaking sub-unit command. A number of commanders had been interviewed to reflect on their own leadership experiences. A quote that challenged my thinking was in relation to preparing and training a Company for an operation. It had words to the effect of ‘Your job as an OC is to make your subordinates hate you during pre-deployment training, so that when you make them do it for real they don’t hate you’. Whilst at the time I vehemently disagreed with the statement, it made me question whether I was leading the right way. I thought about this for a few weeks asking myself if I needed to be hated to be a good commander and leader. I internally reflected and asked myself if I was doing my subordinates a disservice in trying to create an environment where they enjoyed working. I thought I was increasing retention and output but perhaps I was creating a soft workforce. Was I reducing resilience within my own organisation? Was I creating a workforce that was' too soft' to work outside of the microcosm I had created in my sub-unit? Did I need to treat them poorly to ensure they were hardened for their next job; or the next war? I didn’t have the answer. I was torn and didn’t know the way forward. I wanted the best for my organisation as all commanders do but I was no longer sure that I was leading my Company in the best way.

External Influence

I consulted my Commanding Officer on the matter. His response was plain and simple. He reached for a book in his bookcase and asked me to read just a few pages of the classic book ‘The Prince’. There was a tab on the book that marked the exact section about love versus fear with passages underlined as if it was set out as the lesson I needed. I took the book home and read the chapter. For those who haven’t read it, it talks about a Prince (in a time when princes commanded military forces) and whether the Prince should aim to be loved or feared. It describes the pros and cons of each and the ways in which a Prince can persuade their military to do what they desire. It concludes that a commander, “should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved”.  [1]

Being loved is seen as a state that many cannot attain; therefore, a commander should only aim to 'avoid being hated' [2] by balancing love with fear.

Revelation

As I processed this I realised I had been looking at this wrong the entire time. I had a few revelations:

  1. Firstly, love and fear are not antonymous. Commanders need not be hated but may need to be feared. They can balance love with fear but often commanders need to be feared because they are not loved.
  2. Hate and fear are not synonymous. Soldiers can fear a commander without hating them. But when a soldier loves a commander they will do almost anything for them, even without fear as a driving force.
  3. Leadership and likership are not antonymous. Like love and fear, they sit in parallel. Each very different but not necessarily opposite. We shouldn’t assume you can only have one or the other. Contrarily, I consider likership to be a component of leadership. You don’t need it to lead, but it helps.
  4. Being hated does not equal leadership success.

What is Leadership?

An age old question that is asked of every RMC class and on almost all promotion courses without fail. What is Leadership? The Army definition is clear: Leadership is, “The art of influencing and directing people to achieve willingly the team or organisational goal” [3]. So what does this mean in the context of leadership versus likership? Going back to ‘The Prince’, a leader who is hated may not necessarily be able to inspire their team to act willingly. The same could be said for a leader who is feared. The objectives may still be met, but with reluctance rather than desire. Yet a happy and faithful soldier will follow their commander regardless of the situation.

Liked Leaders are More Effective

The difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of a leader comes from the fact that we rely largely on anecdotal and subjective evidence. Who is to say that a loved leader will achieve greater or lesser results than a feared leader? When examining this, the art of human resources mixes with the science of psychology. Studies have shown that employees will be more satisfied and perform better if their leader is liked [4] [5]. Further, liked leaders were rated higher in aspects such as their authenticity, transformational skills and ethics when their subordinates were surveyed [4]. Ultimately soldiers want strong, ethical leadership underpinned by respectful human interaction. They want to know that their commander is human, and they want to feel valued. Soldiers and officers who don’t feel valued move to an organisation that will value them.

To summarise: It is easy to lead when you are liked, but it’s not easy to be liked when you are leading. It’s a balancing act.

Likership vs. Friendship

The soldiers don’t want to be your friend; and if you want to be their friend you are leading wrong. I think this may be the best way to measure if your likership builds leadership or destroys it. It’s ok to be liked; even encouraged. But you shouldn’t be friended. The chain of command exists for a reason and friendship across rank groups can undermine that chain. It can jeopardise discipline, build resentment across the workforce and ultimately have a negative effect on morale.

Leadership or Likership?

Now to draw this back to the age old question of whether leadership or likership is better. I believe that likership aids in leadership, but if you seek likership at the detriment to other aspects of leadership you will surely fail as a commander. You need likership to lead, but it isn’t the entire formula, just one piece of it [4]. You can’t chase likership. For some it will not come naturally. Most will be forced to revert to fear as a motivator and means of control. But the best commanders will use likership to instil a strong love and devotion to them, and therefore a desire within their subordinates to achieve the best results. Leadership is ultimately about generating followership and to be followed you should simultaneously be liked and respected, loved and feared.

Aspects and Qualities of Leadership

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the aspects and qualities I see as crucial to leadership. There are many others and this forms only a personal opinion based off observation and research.

  • Competence
  • Analytics - The ability to solve complex problems and develop FASD solutions (feasible, acceptable, suitable, distinguishable)
  • Ethical Decisiveness - The ability to make sound, ethical decisions, often under pressure
  • Risk Appreciation - The ability to understand appropriate risk thresholds to balance force protection with the achievement of the mission
  • Communication
  • Empowering - Able to use delegation and mission command through successful transfer of intent
  • Charismatic - Inspirational and stirring. Inspiring devotion in their subordinates
  • Transparent - Open communication that builds trust
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Self awareness - The ability to introspect and understand the effect your actions have on others
  • Social Awareness - Understanding how to react to social situations with your subordinates
  • Empathy and Compassion - Understanding your subordinate’s emotions and reactions to situations, and having a response that involves a desire to help
  • Likership
  • Humanity and Humility - The act of being seen as being human and the quality of being humble
  • Personability - Being approachable and pleasant to be around
  • Altruism - Commitment to the wellbeing of others at your own detriment

The fear of not being able to command effectively in battle

There appears to be a fear that if you manage your soldiers 'too softly' in barracks, you won’t be able to command them effectively in battle. This was the genesis of my internal question as to whether my leadership style was effective. For a force that conducts a majority of its career in barracks in a raise, train, sustain (management and training) role, we care a lot about the 20% of our time that involves warfighting operations. This is important as it is ultimately our role as part of the Australian Defence Force. Yet much of our current workforce has not seen warlike operations. We should certainly aim to be ready to command on a complex and dangerous battlefield, that is our purpose and design. But I see good management and leadership in barracks as a building block to effectively command in battle. I don’t see the human aspects of leadership that I described above as undermining a commander’s ability to effectively command in war. I see it as building mutual trust and respect that enables commanders to effectively influence their subordinates to achieve a desired endstate.

The litmus test is asking yourself this question: Will my subordinates follow me if I ask them to; or do I have to order them? This, I believe, is the true test of your leadership and your ability to influence others. Charismatic and inspirational leaders come in all forms and are not always the loudest and most boisterous. We all need to aim to be the best leader we can be while staying true to ourselves.

Conclusion

What I discovered was that being liked doesn’t make you any less of a leader. It won’t negatively impact your ability to command on the battlefield; rather the opposite, it may in fact increase your effectiveness as a leader. Whilst you should aim not to be hated, you shouldn’t seek to be liked. Being liked can be a powerful tool, but those who can’t be liked or loved can use fear to generate followership. What is more important is achieving the respect of your subordinates as their leader which can be achieved by working on the aspects and qualities of a leader listed in this article. Everything is a balance and it is important to continually internally reflect on your own leadership style to balance the way you lead throughout your career as the move into different roles. Likership is a component of leadership and we need to understand this in order to best lead our subordinates.

Bibliography

 [1]  Machiavelli, N., (1532), The Prince (The Book of Military Strategy, 2015), 1st Edition, Engage Books, Canada, p. 171.

 [2] ibid.

[3] Australian Army (2013), Land Warfare Doctrine 0-2 Leadership, Ch 1, Para 1.9.

[4] McAllister, C., Moss, S., Martinko, M., (2019), Why Likable Leaders Seem More Effective, Harvard Business Review, https://www.google.com/amp/s/hbr.org/amp/2019/10/why-likable-leaders-seem-more-effective, accessed 18 Mar 21

[5] Martinko, M., Mackey, J., Moss, S., Harvey, P., McAllister, C., Brees, J., (2018), An Exploration of the Role of Subordinate Affect in Leader Evaluations, Journal of Applied Psychology - American Psychology Association, https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fapl0000302, accessed 18 Mar 21

 


Portrait

Biography

Robert Gibson

Major

Major Robert Gibson is currently posted to 3rd Combat Service Support Battalion as Officer Commanding 3rd Field Supply Company. He has been posted to Headquarters Joint Operations Command as a Logistics Planner, the Army School of Logistic Operations as an Instructor as well as Regimental postings to 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Service Support Battalion and 9th Force Support Battalion. In 2016 he deployed as the Operations Officer for Force Support Element Five. He has recently returned from OPERATION COVID-19 ASSIST where he commanded a Joint Task Unit in support of the Victorian Hotel Quarantine program.  He has a Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Strategic People Management.

 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Comments

This young man is my eldest grandson and I’m very proud of what he had achieved in the Army

Interestingly, when you consider this leadership dilemma from the evidence that helps us to understand our own neurobiology (in terms of what governs behaviour), the opposite of love is not hate, it’s opposite is indifference. Much harder to influence people if they are indifferent to you!

I agree with the premise of the article. In addition I feel you could expand it to include the idea that in order to be an effective commander you need the trust and respect of your subordinates more than their friendship, or them liking you. You can be trusted without being liked however trust and respect are more difficult to earn in an environment of fear and dislike ( or hate).

The premise of this article highly resonates with me, particularly the statement "ultimately soldiers want strong, ethical leadership underpinned by respectful human interaction". I strive wherever possible to talk to/with every member of my squadron in a relatable and respectful manner, regardless of rank. It seems to be working for me.

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