Teach & Serve III, No. 7 – Intimidation

Teach & Serve III, No. 7

Intimidation

September 20, 2017

I do not want to follow a leader who thinks that the best way to engender loyalty is to intimidate those being led.

And I won’t.

I have written about this anecdote before, but I had cause to consider it anew this week.

When I first was hired as an administrator, I had a conversation with my uncle who, for years, had been Dean of the Math Department at a midwestern public university. He had well over 40 professors and adjuncts in his department and there was much to manage.

My uncle, a very bright, very tall man, said to me: “Sometimes, use the height.”

“What’s that?”

“Sometimes use your height.”

I am a tall man as well, taller than my uncle, actually, but I still did not take his meaning.

“When things get out of hand, if I am sitting in a meeting, I just stand up. That tends to quiet the room.”

“Ah,” I said. “Thanks.”

It sounded like a pretty good strategy to me. Rise up. Indicate displeasure. Control the room.

I do not, however, remember ever using this technique. I am sure I did.

15 years later, I wonder about it. I hate to overthink it, but it does seem to me like a move that is meant to intimidate. I am tall. I am taller than you. I exert my authority.

Okay, okay. No big deal. It is not like my uncle pounded on tables (I do not believe he did, anyway) and it is not like I ever did, either (if I did, I have conveniently blocked those times out of my memory).

This is not a bad strategy. It is not offensive. It is just fine especially if one does not find oneself standing up all the time to control a room or reset a meeting. See, I believe the only reason a strategy like that would work in the first place is because those being led respect the leader enough to care what he or she is doing, standing or sitting.

There are some leaders, though, who believe that their leadership originates from a place of power. Some who believe the only reason they are followed at all is because of the title on their lanyard, the name plate on their door, the position they hold. There are some leaders who believe their positions grant them all the authority they need to be leaders, to be called “boss,” to be in charge.

And those leaders, in my opinion, tend to rely on leadership techniques that intimidate, that divide, that defeat. Frankly, though initially those being led might be “defeated” by these tactics, it is my experience that, in the end, leading from intimidation is almost always self-defeating.

Is there a place in leadership to exert one’s authority? Of course there is. Often leaders need to. But if that is the primary mode of operation – if intimidation in leadership is seen as a useful tool, not a last resort – that is a problem.

I do not want to follow a leader who thinks that the best way to engender loyalty is to intimidate those being led.

And I won’t.

Nor will most others. For long.