What Everyone is Saying About Intimidation

I’m not often intimidated by questions from my MBA students, but this one was a stumper. It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with most of my career.

“Why do so many execs choose to take stances of fear and intimidation?”

Why Do So Many Execs Try to Intimidate Their Followers?

It started with our discussion of Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on how your non-verbals can impact your confidence. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a powerful story. She conducts an experiment where interviewers try to be as intimidating as possible, with a stoic, non-emotional expression. Fresh out of a season of interviews, this behavior struck close to home for many of the extremely bright, promising leaders, which led to discussions of where else such intimidation tactics are used by leaders in business each day. And they asked the ultimate question: “Just why do they do that?”

My theories:

Someone Intimidated Them

Not just one someone, lots of them. Intimidation has become the norm in some cultures. So if they want to be an exec they learn to intimidate too, without considering the impact. I remember being coached shortly after my promotion to the executive ranks that it was time “to smile less.” I frowned at the demand, thanked her for the feedback, went back and smiled at my team, and kept on smiling at the strong results they produced.

Intimidation Gets Short-Term Results

After all, in a fast-paced environment, short-term results are sexy. If you’re in a hurry for results, just follow Ask Men’s “How To,” advice, including “let them fear your eyes, never be nice, and use your Brando voice.” It will work–for a minute.

They’re Scared

Act tough, and scare enough other people–no one will notice your fear.

Intimidation Is So Much Easier Than Leading Well

“Those people” are so hard to engage and motivate. Best just to scare them into doing what you need.

How to Respond to Intimidation

“I tried to go out for theater or theater arts, but I was too scared or too intimidated. But I had a lot of friends on the cross-country team that had great senses of humor.”Dana Carvey

This part is easy. Don’t let the turkeys get you down. Rise above the game. Be better than their silly intimidation tactics.

And most important: REMEMBER HOW IT FEELS.

I’m not sure why being intimidating results in amnesia. Intimidation sucks. Remember that feeling. Don’t pass it down the line.

How did you feel early in your career? What’s your stance now? How do we prevent the intimidation contagion from spreading?

stuck in the middle with you

Stuck in the Middle With You

The other day I got the kind of feedback that kicks you in the gut and makes your brain hurt for days. I’m sure you know the kind, it stings with truth, but you’ve got a gazillion counter points you would never say out loud, for fear of appearing to not be listening. It’s from an amazing leader who worked on my team for several years, and is a regular reader of LGL.

This is a long one, so for those of you who prefer a musical soundtrack with your pondering, click here.

She writes:

One area of frustration for me in business is much like my frustration in the collection and recording of history down through time, and that is the winners make the history, it’s from their perspective and rarely is it all-inclusive of the realities of the time. Many leaders go through their career (certainly once they get to a higher level) believing that their station or title in their company validates that their perspective is somehow best, or more insightful. These leaders don’t leverage the best from their people or their organizations, and the idea that they understand how their employees feel is somewhat silly. To me your book represents a leader saying why and how I should relate to them, excuse them, allow for and understand their human nature.

That’s where the disconnect was for me, at what point do leaders really need to understand, and act on how their behaviors, their decisions affect the masses below them? In short I want leaders to improve, have better sight, understand and truly grow about those in their care. I want leaders to see more than market share, and stack ranks. I want leaders to see and appreciate intention, effort and of course results. But more over I want leaders to be real with me, and I want them to strive as hard to understand me as I strive to understand them. In doing this leaders improve the lives and careers of their employees.

Karin I think you are a great leader and I will admit I expect a lot from you, to that end the brilliance I’ve seen in your past writing and have referenced and yes even bragged about to others simply was not here for me. Frankly this seemed safe, when what all leaders really need (throughout their careers) is to be grabbed by the shoulders and shaken from time to time and forced to remember from whence they came, to understand the politics of our world are their making, and thusly they have the power to unmake it. Knowing that leaders in business buy and read this type of book, I feel you have the knowledge and credibility to improve them in their view down their chain of command as opposed to another attempt to give line employees better understanding of how and why their bosses do what they do so they can advance.

The gist of the issue: Hey, whose side are you on here? The imperfect bosses or the people?
The short answer is: Yes.

You see, I’ve been running around talking to every podcast, radio station, or media outlet sharing my opinion that your boss is just an imperfect human being doing the best she can, just like you. I’ve been firing people up and empowering them with practical tools and advice for advancing their career, even if their boss is a jerk. I believe strongly that helping people defend themselves against an imperfect system and regaining their power is vital.

And I’ve also seen the other side. I do agree there are leaders who need to be “grabbed by the shoulders and shaken from time to time.” I can’t stand the arrogance and abused power. I hate it when leaders forget about the human beings they’ve been entrusted to support. I worry about a system that over-grooms their leaders and the cycle of intimidation continues. I cringe when leaders are too busy to understand their impact.

The question on the table: Am I cutting the leaders too much slack?
The longer answer is: Yes and no.

We’re All Stuck In The Middle of Something

Sure the system is imperfect. People are imperfect. There are good guys and bad guys at every level. I’ve learned a heck of a lot about getting unstuck on both sides of the equation. I must help, and will do everything in my power to help you, them, and the guys in the middle.

We must work together to create the conversation that will build better organizations through meaningful visions, great cultures, and brilliant execution. Such results come from imperfect, inspired people who care for the big picture – at every level.

I’m not ready to pick a side. The best good I can do is right here, stuck in the middle – with you.