Skip to Content

As a leader, is it better to be feared or loved?

Interviews With Indiegogo Inc. Co-FoundersInterviews With Indiegogo Inc. Co-Founders
Danae Ringelmann, founder and Chief Development Officer at Indiegogo.Photograph by David Paul Morris — Bloomberg via Getty Images
The 40 under 40 Insider network is an online community where some of the most thoughtful and influential people in business under 40 contribute answers to timely questions about career and leadership. This week we ask: As a leader, is it better to be feared or loved? The following answer is by Danae Ringelmann, founder and Chief Development Officer at Indiegogo.

As a leader of a company solving an important problem in the world – inequitable access to capital – I believe it is better to be loved than feared.

I believe being loved embodies three simple ideas: trust, respect, and inspiration. People follow those they trust, work harder for those they respect, and find meaning when inspired to make a greater impact through their work. As a result, people are far more motivated to perform to their potential and creative in how they achieve their goals, which drives both business results and personal fulfillment. Productivity and happiness are not mutually exclusive, but rather co-dependent.

How to Build Trust
I don’t believe trust is given; it is earned. And to earn the trust of your team, I’ve discovered it’s important to listen with the intent to understand and share your knowledge and expertise when relevant. As a leader, you must be open to being wrong, vulnerable enough to admit it, and courageous enough to confidently change course if needed. You also must be willing to be a coach when it would be easier to be a dictator.

As a company pioneering a new industry, we are not trying to be a “cheaper, faster, or better” version of something that already exists. We’re inventing a new and fair way of bringing entrepreneurial, artistic, and cause-related efforts to life. There are no blueprints; we must create our own. And so we depend on listening to and sharing with each other what we have learned along the way. We don’t have time to repeat the same mistakes. So we need to trust each other in order to innovate, and we need to innovate in order to move forward. It’s that simple.

How to Garner Respect
Like trust, respect is also something you earn—and by leading through your actions, not your words. A fearless work ethic with a results-oriented mindset is magnetic—and it attracts those who share the same values. Those who don’t, stay away. And when you continue to earn your job every day, your team members do as well, and the positive cycle continues. Your great employees and their results command respect, and in turn, attract more great employees and results.

The members of our team who continue to make an impact adapt through change elegantly and bring other incredible talent to the team. These individuals’ work ethic and commitment to results consistently amaze me. There’s nothing more motivating as a leader than working with other action-oriented, self-directed thinkers, do-ers, and learners.

How to Inspire
As a leader, you inspire your team when your company’s mission is personal. You don’t just believe achieving your mission is important to becoming a sustainable business; you believe it is critical to improving humanity. This commitment is emotional, not logical, but the same emotional commitment is the reason people thrive when working with you. As Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, says about customers: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The same principle applies to your team. And when you offer meaningful work, you don’t just set up your business for success in attracting passionate, committed and hard-working people, you set your people up for success in leading purpose-driven lives—a human need the business world often forgets to acknowledge and serve.