Forbes Coaches Council Member

How to use Intimidation as a Leadership Strategy


To be clear, I’m not talking about the full on fear, Trump-like strategy where employees work for a successful leader who wins at all costs. This a someone who feels empowered by bullying, has a volatile personality and most importantly, has an exceedingly delicate ego. I’ve been there, done that. Can you tell? (At  least the CEO I worked for was smart but that’s another story.) This is not the kind of intimidation strategy I’m talking about.

The one I mean is more about a leader’s awareness in regards to his or her behaviors and strengths. These leaders know how their strengths might impact others.

If your strength is that you enjoy time alone and speaking one-on-one with people, you’re probably not going to strike up casual conversation or talk for the sake of being friendly. Unfortunately, when you’re on the quieter side, you can be perceived as unapproachable, unfriendly or aloof. Earlier in my career, these characteristics were frequently written in my performance reviews.

If you’re moderately assertive, relatively direct and low on the accommodating scale–or willing to express disagreement and defend priorities without compromise–well, you can be intimidating. And I’m sure this isn’t news to you.

That’s the kind of intimidation I mean. When you have these strengths, you have a choice. How much do you want to lean into your badass, intimidating self? If you’re staring at a modern-version of The Godfather (Can you even imagine?), then lean in all you can. If you find yourself in the C-suite and you want to be an effective, if not exceptional leader, you might want to increase your self-awareness to understand when to lean in and when to step back.

Intimidation is not about expectations. High expectations are standard. Who wants to work for a leader who has moderate expectations? Certainly no one exceptional. Intimidation is more about how those expectations get met – how the work gets done, how much people trust you and how people feel about you as a leader.

I wrote about superbosses and this was a sentiment that whispered loudly: Superbosses go beyond pushing hard for results and instill a sense of confidence and exceptionalism in their people.

Wow! Who wouldn’t want to work for that leader?! Aim to be a leader who builds people up, and helps them reach their potential for greatness.

So, if you find that you’re moderate-to-high on the intimidation skill, turn it down. Smile more. Engage with employees on their terms. Listen more. Earn their trust. Let people fail in order to learn. The bottom line is simple: recognize your strengths and use them to help people better themselves. In the long run, helping them will also help you.

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