Leading in balance – Ruling by fear

I don’t like to work for or with people who scare others into doing things.

It bothers me; and I generally stay away from it when I am called upon to lead, as I am and have been for years.

Instead, I do my best to enunciate the goals of the organization/institution so that people sign up for those, and when they do, they sign up for what I ask them to do.  And it works a good deal of the time.

But there’s a chink in my armor, a hole in my thinking.  I knew about it a long time ago but it’s being trumpeted over my leadership style by an entire brass section lately.

There are those who won’t be ruled any other way than fear.

I’m reading through War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy as I do my daily time on the treadmill (43 minutes, count ’em).    It is such a long book with so many vignettes and scenes that I hope they don’t turn into one big mushy mess in my mind, but for now there is one I recall clearly:

[begin scene with commentary]

The French army has invaded Russia.  They are on the move.  The gentry – which is the class that Tolstoy writes about the whole book – is fleeing the countryside.  The serfs, at that time little more than lifelong indentured servants, sense the disorder to come and begin throwing off their bonds and start to drink and rebel.  Princess (meaning rich lady) Mary is stuck because of this; no one will drive her in a carriage away from her dead father’s estate in the country to safety in Moscow or Petersburg.  She despairs.

Into the scene comes riding Nicholas Rostov, one of Tolstoy’s main heroes in the book.  He is a Russian hussar (calvary soldier) and is dressed as such.  He finds Mary, whom he remembers as the sister of one who was engaged to HIS sister Natasha.  He is infuriated by the behavior of the peasants and goes out, two against 20 (?) and intimidates them back into serving the princess and her attendant.  She gets a ride away from danger and her heart is won by Nicholas (I haven’t seen how that will turn out yet; Tolstoy’s love plots are incredibly twisted).

[end scene with commentary]

Now I work with no Russian 19th century peasantry and I think I’m thankful for that.  Not thankful for having no contact with the poor, but for the dissolution of the institution of serfdom that kept the poor that way.

But there are those who, like those poor serfs in the story, will take advantage of any let up in authority, any sense of “getting away with it” or living for their own agenda, given a lack of strong consequences for doing so.

I have not dealt well with them and I’ve paid the price of latent and more severe consequences, which is no fun for anyone.  But I’ve learned and am getting better at it.

So there is a place and a time for ruling by fear, for some will be ruled no other way:

Romans 13:2-5 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.  For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

One of the problems I have (and we have) with this principle is the obvious abuse of authority.  We cite examples of that faster than almost any kind of relational phenomenon.  But abused authority doesn’t negate the need for it nor its proper and helpful use.  Can I read that part of the passage?  Can we?  Or do we only see the wrath and feel the spanking?

Now, this has to be tempered with the blessing of free choices – and they do exist in my life at least – we have in the 21st century.  If my job is oppressive, I can leave.  And not everyone will fit in every organization.  As I have said many times, if I am not someone you can work with in submission – and that’s not a dirty word – then 1) find someone who you can work with in that capacity or 2) start your own institution, organization or tribe.  I begrudge no one who moves on like that.

For sure, I will rule by fear over some.  Not oppressively but with resolution and applied force.  Because it’s the only way in which the organization will properly function.

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