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- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
6 min read
By Nick Bell

How good leaders use tough love to improve performance


Being a leader is more than just giving out orders and kicking back in the fanciest office. In fact, a great leader will enhance the performance of every employee beneath them, supercharging the productivity of the office or company and improving their organization’s value across the board.

But being a good manager doesn’t always involve doling out constant praise and letting employees go home early. In fact, many of the most successful leaders use tough love instead of being overly gentle to improve the performance of their employees. Let’s look at how you can do this now.


As mentioned, a leader is primarily responsible for improving the performance of their employees and handing out orders to be fulfilled by their subordinates. More specifically, leaders:

  • motivate their employees to do their best
  • build strong connections between them and their employees
  • offer conduits through which employees can offer feedback for the company
  • dole out feedback or reprimands to employees that need it

A leader can do this in tons of ways, and through many different management styles. Lots of managers tended to err on the side of caution and are a little softer than necessary. But over time, this inspires some employees to take advantage of the soft manager and get away with things they really shouldn’t.

Managers may do this because they’re afraid that tough love will turn their employees against them. But more often than not, the reverse ends up being true.


Basically, tough love is an excellent managerial style because it inspires fantastic improvements in performance in all your subordinates without opening the door for subordinate trust misuse. In other words, it has the same benefits as a softer managerial style without risking that you’ll be taken advantage of.

But how exactly does tough love improve your organization and its employees?


Tough love proves authenticity in the manager who uses the style. This is much more important than you might think.

Authenticity, in the business context, means that the leader in question always brings their authentic self to work and doesn’t use a facsimile when dealing with their employees. Humans are pretty good at picking up when someone is putting on a face, so to speak, and nothing is less inspiring than speaking to a leader that is obviously putting on a fake grin.

On the other hand, authentic leaders may be gruff, no-nonsense, and to the point, but employees will subconsciously detect that they never have to worry about this leader lying to them. Furthermore, authentic leaders can inspire employees to be their own authentic selves while in the workplace.

This makes employees more comfortable while at work and builds a better social environment overall.


Furthermore, a tough love managerial style relies on logic instead of feel-good emotions. This, in turn, shows employees that they can trust your judgment even when their own emotions might be compromised by economic uncertainty or workplace disputes.

Consider a softer manager that uses emotion to solve disagreements. While one employee might be pleased with the outcome, both they and the employee that the manager sided against understand that emotions are fickle and can easily switch from side to side. There’s no guarantee that a fair judgment will ever be handed out.

A tough love leader that uses logic to solve problems, make business decisions and reprimand employees can at least be trusted to be fair no matter what. Again, this ties back to building trust and makes your employees feel more secure in your leadership.


Another tangential benefit is that it shows tacit trust in your employees. If you trust your employees to be no-nonsense or authentic with them, you also trust them to be mature enough to handle your feedback. They may not be happy about it on the outside, but many employees respect to such management styles because it implies respect in their abilities as workers.


Even beyond the individual leader-subordinate benefits, a tough love managerial style can improve performance across the company. Tough love managers focus on performance, honesty, and getting people into the best spots for their skills in motivational levels.

This natural employee optimization will result in your company doing much better across all metrics than it was before. Therefore, a tough love managerial style is a perfect choice to improve performance in any company.


You see, part of being an excellent leader involves building trust between you and your employees. Without trust, your employees won’t take what you say as the rule, nor will they be particularly motivated to carry out your orders. But if your employees do trust you, they’ll feel more motivated than before and they’ll feel like they can rely on you, both for tough but true feedback and if they have an issue they need to be solved.


If you want to lead through tough love, you’ll first need to build trust with your employees. This is a necessary component before you start handing out tough love advice or reprimands to your employees.

If, for instance, you’re a new manager stepping in for an old favorite leader, you can’t immediately start conversing with your employees as if you already have a relationship with them. Your employees will more likely think that you’re an overly strict boss, uncaring of the human element in the organization.

Take your time and build up plenty of trust between you and your employees. This isn’t to say you can’t give out tough love and seek to improve your employees as much as possible. But build trust along the way and always do your best to show your employees that they can trust you with their needs and careers.

Only after you build trust with the subordinates under your charge will your tough love efforts really start to bear fruit.

About the author


Co-Founder of Lisnic.com 🔥 & Founder of 12 digital agencies 🎯
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