All leaders want both love and respect. Most only get one. The best simply let both come to them.
It’s life on the tough love spectrum. It’s the delicate balance between love and respect. Most leaders stand in the arena on one extreme. On one end, there are coddlers—those who go easy on their people, wanting love and anticipating respect in return. On the other sits the dictators—those who intimidate their people into submission, wanting respect and expecting love in return.
The coddler receives only superficial love and no respect, and the dictator gets only artificial respect and no love. And if these leaders stay far enough on either side of the spectrum, they end up with nothing, as their team stops listening, stops trying, and stops caring.
This is a deeply existential problem that most leaders face. To solve this problem, leaders must find equilibrium on the tough love spectrum. Instead of asking “how can I be loved and respected,” reframe the question from you to the team: “how can I facilitate my team’s success?”
In the documentary, Last Chance U: Basketball, you see a perfect example from coach John Mosley. Throughout the season, you see his extreme oscillations between intensity and tenderness, between dictator and coddler. He literally bounces off walls, screaming at his players to pick up their energy. He makes them run sprints until they can’t breathe. He forces them to repeat drills until they get it perfect. On the other hand, he is seen praying with his players, laughing with them, taking them on team-building retreats, gently supporting and comforting them.
Coach Mosely knows where the equilibrium is between love and respect. He’s not afraid to venture to both extremes of the tough love spectrum. Because he has seen what his players cannot, he knows the types of sacrifices they need to make. He knows his players aren’t likely to make the tough sacrifices on their own, so he brings the sacrifices to them.
Coach Mosely doesn’t care about what he stands to gain. He pushes his team so hard not because he wants them to respect him. He prays and laughs with them not because he wants them to love him. He does these things because he wants them to succeed. If that happens, the love and respect will come as a natural byproduct.
So, if you really care about your team—if you really want your people to succeed, don’t allow them to choose their sacrifices. To help your people get where they want to go, you have to bring the sacrifices to them. Your job as a leader is to bring the best out of each member of your team, and to do that, you have to strike a balance between love and respect, between ease and difficulty. Like Coach Mosley, you must strike a consistent balance on the tough love spectrum.