The “i” Word of Leadership

L E A D E R S: Let’s cut to the chase – if your go-to method of leadership when times get tough is the dreaded “i” word (intimidation), you are setting yourself up for severe failure; not only for yourself, but others as well.

Leadership is, and has always been about been about our integrity for a simple reason – your level of INTEGRITY is directly correlated to the level of TRUST people have in you.

Ceramic Pots = Our Relationships

If you’ve ever been in a bad relationship; personal, work-related, etc. you understand that once a level of trust has been broken or completely destroyed, the ability to re-gain that level of trust becomes a VERY lengthy process, and often times will never be the same again. Think of a hand-crafted piece of ceramic; the beauty, the shape, the form, the amount of time it took a potter to make it, the kiln process, the glaze process, the paint process, and more! If that piece of ceramic is ever dropped and broken, there is a possibility that a heaping helping of glue will help put it back together again, but everyone can agree that it will never be 100% ever again.

The “Bad i” of Leadership

If there is a bad word in the language of leadership, it is intimidation. This is not to discount the necessity for what I would call “healthy intimidation“. Harvard Business Review would call them, “the great intimidators” who are not the typical bullies we think of when using the word intimidation. To be clear, great intimidators motivating factor for pushing through the “thicket to clear the path”, is solely about vision – not ego, gratuitous humiliation, or wielding one own’s power or status that we commonly find in leaders’ intimidation tactics.

The Greatest Enemy of Trust

When i was younger, I wasn’t the guy that played video games 24/7 (which is probably why I wasn’t too good at it!), but I did play enough to learn this – with each level passed, the “big boss” enemy at the end of each level got more difficult. This is what we have to understand as leaders – the greatest asset in our organization are people that TRUST us, and the “big boss” at every level of leadership is solely focused on destroying that trust. It doesn’t need help by using intimidation as a tactic of our leadership to push our own agenda or lift our ego.

The Domino Effect

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, he says, “the very first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.” – This first dysfunction is at the bottom of a diagram shaped pyramid (see my rough sketch below) for a reason – the largest portion of a pyramid, sets the tone for what’s built on top.5 dysfunctions pyramidI’m not going to get into the 5 Dysfunctions in this discussion, but it is worth mentioning as a resource for struggling teams (…and a colleague of mine and myself are set to give a talk on the 5 Dysfunctions in the weeks ahead so it’s been on the brain lately), but if you have the time, evaluate the above very carefully and take a look at your organization from a 30,000 ft. view – where do you stand as an organization? as a leader?


Intimidation breeds invulnerabilityIntegrity breeds trust.

Intimidation breeds fearIntegrity breeds harmony.

Intimidation breeds lack of commitmentIntegrity breeds 110% buy-in.

Intimidation breeds avoidance of accountabilityIntegrity breeds exceeding expectations.

Intimidation breeds inattention to resultsIntegrity breeds focus on “us”; not “i“.


Q’s? Let’s talk about it.



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