Leading by intimidation

We all know someone like this. Leading by intimidation. Strong willed, determined and resilient but hard to be around. Often unapproachable.

What we need to understand is that fierce authoritarian behaviour in leaders can often be mistaken for strength. Traditionally we consider loud voices, firm tone and aggressive behaviour as being the actions of strong bosses. In truth, it can be a behaviour that pushes people away from the leader as a form of personal protection. Leading by intimidation is a mistake. In my opinion it is a mask for insecurities and weakness.

Let me explain….

All behaviours are purposeful. When challenged by someone, a person has choices about how they might behave. The response could be to fight back in a fearless manner. No negotiation, short and blunt conversations. Maybe even retaliation. This can work very well for a leader who does not want to deal with underlying matters, justify or explain a decision.  Negotiation takes time. The purpose of aggressive behaviour in the workplace can be defence and protection. “No one challenges me” is a quick fire way to move on to the next topic without challenge. A quick fix.

I once worked with a colleague who would either fight back fiercely or, when challenged on the behaviour, would break down in tears. Leading by intimidation was a habit. Same purpose. Tears also can be a quick fire way to move another person on to the next topic without challenge. If we truly want to be a great leader we need to behave authentically and our behaviours need to reflect truth rather than be a lever to achieve personal gain.

Leading by intimidation

Although I don’t want to sound condescending, us adults are sometimes no different to children. What works for children can often work for adults too. It just looks a little more sophisticated. If tears soften the position of a colleague then it can be just as powerful as a raised voice or abuse of power through coercion. They have developed a set of behaviours that have proven to work over time.

Short term these people are effective.

……….Well, sort of.

These leaders do not baulk at impediments, even if these obstacles are human. They don’t suffer from any doubt and they are not timid. They have disregard for constraints imposed by others. This flies in the face of modern theories about good leadership behaviours including authenticity, integrity, honesty and trust. Long term they create toxic cultures and these types of behaviours may get duplicated across the organisation.

What happens?

  1. Stress Increases
  2. Creativity is killed
  3. Staff won’t work with you
  4. Everyone becomes “yes” people
  5. People leave

What do we do when our senior or middle managers share these characteristics?

Dealing with this type of intimidating behaviour takes a great deal of leadership strength and you can’t fight fire with fire, even as the supervisor. Authentic leaders will “call” such behaviour and speak about it openly. It may require a direct conversation and you too risk being the victim but stay strong. Stay calm, remain focussed and stay patient. Live your values, authenticity and with integrity.

When the parameters are clear that decisions and actions cannot happen using these methods and true consensus must be achieved then these behaviours lose power. The paradigm must be clear. The culture must be clear. We achieve consensus in a respectful, open and effective manner.

What if this person is your boss? Look out for a future article.

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CEO and Leadership Expert Greg Parry

Authentic Leadership
Greg Parry – Authentic Leadership Expert

Internationally renowned for his expertise in international leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for organisations throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received numerous awards and his company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in recent years.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained leaders throughout the world in areas such as leadership, communication, personal skills and global perspectives, among other areas. His expertise in international business start up projects, leadership and training development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

GSE offer a comprehensive international school franchise in all major regions of the world.