Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fear, Power, and Respect

Woodward’s book “Fear” begins with a quote from candidate Donald Trump: “Real power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.”  Maybe he’s watched Patton too many times.  It might explain his penchant for tightly scripted rallies where he plays a warped version of George C. Scott playing George S. Patton.  He may even have a vague recollection of Machiavelli writing that it’s “better to be feared than loved (if you can’t have both).”  In any case, it’s clear that Trump has a need to surround himself with toadies who cater to his insatiable appetite to be liked while he presents himself as a tough, smart leader with right answers no one else has.  Even in his dealings with other leaders, his slithering ability to charm is only a facade behind which he expects to dictate the terms of the relationship.  It’s reminiscent of petty tyrants and old jokes about used car salesmen.

Intimidation, It seems, is the only power tool he knows how to use.  Intimidation creates fear, and for him that’s what real power is.  His anger, spitefulness, insults, and determination to punch and keep on punching, are how he instills fear.  Curiously, for those he can convince that he’s on their side, it inspires from them a form of respect.  He’s the one fighting on their behalf.  Calling with bellicosity a spade a spade, he’s saying what they would like to say for themselves, but know they don’t have the standing to do it.  The fearful are encouraged by the one who puts fear into the hearts of others.  Equally curious, the bellicose intimidator is a fearful coward who can’t stand on his own, but needs minions to keep him upright.

Fear is the way to get respect for those who confuse respect with being liked.  The need to be liked is a two sided coin.  On one side it means catering to the wishes of others, even at the cost of effectiveness.  It’s the side where the leader is afraid that if he or she is not liked, others won’t follow.  On the other side it means Trumpian use of intimidating fear to create the illusion of being liked while holding onto leadership power.  Leaders on both sides live in fear.  One side gives into it, the other side fights it by intimidating others to be even more fearful. 

Respect is not the same thing as being liked.  It’s admiration from others earned through demonstrated ability, perseverance, integrity, and genuine concern for the success and welfare of those with whom one works.  It’s what’s earned through the servant leadership fundamental to Jesus’s teachings, and secularized through the writings of people such as W. Edwards Deming.  It’s often demonstrated by ordinary people in ordinary places doing ordinary jobs, gaining the respect of their communities in the process.    

Over a long career I’ve encountered a few leaders and would be leaders who said they didn’t want to be respected, they wanted to be feared.  They made it known they would not suffer fools gladly.  I guess they heard it somewhere, and thought it would give them more control over how things were done.  It often looked like success in the short run, but it was a set up for failure in the end.  Using fear as a primary management tool always surrounds leaders with the very fools they claim not to suffer gladly.  Where did that suffer fools gladly thing come from anyway?

It came from St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, where he chastised them with the original saying.  He said they put up with fools gladly, falsely thinking themselves to be wise.  It seems that leaders who boast about not putting up with fools gladly, surround themselves with sycophants who play the fool to keep the leader’s intimidating temper from flaring up.  Those kind of leaders can’t tolerate the presence of others who won’t be intimidated and might be more able.  In the end they lead only to failure.

I look forward to the time when the presidency is again held by someone who has earned respect, and doesn’t need to use intimidating fear as a primary tool for forcing others to follow.





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