How to Deal with An Intimidating Leader

Many organizations operate out of the belief that people in leadership need a tough mindset to be effective. Especially in turbulent times, there’s a sense that the only way leaders can reach the financial and subjective goals they’re measured against is to bulldoze their people. But of course this approach doesn’t yield great results, and it leaves employees feeling unnerved, insecure and even frightened.

If you’re among those who are feeling intimidated and overwhelmed, here are some tips for coping:

Manifest the right mindset. The best way to deal with an intimidating leader is to keep a good mindset. Don’t take anything they say to heart; remember that what they’re saying and doing is a reflection on them, not you. When you keep that in mind, it becomes a lot easier to manage your attitude and your emotions.

Practice direct and concise communication. Never give anyone who’s trying to intimidate you reason to believe their efforts are working. When you need to communicate with your intimidating leader, plan and rehearse to make sure you’re clear, direct, confident and firm about what you’re saying.  Some examples

  • I think…..
  • I appreciate the feedback, but I don’t agree.
  • Let me get back to you on that.
  • Here’s what I can do …
  • I understand your position; here’s mine.

Maintain your professionalism. When your leader is intimidating, it’s more important than ever to avoid negative behavior like gossip, yelling, or losing your temper. Don’t badmouth your leader to others. Whatever happens, remember that you can’t control their behavior but you can control your response and keep your own behavior impeccably professional. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with bullying—report abusive behavior to Human Resources or through your organization’s official channels.

Develop a stronger relationship. If you can get past the intimidating façade to the human beneath, it may be possible to begin developing a stronger relationship with your intimidating leader. If they know they can trust you, they may be inclined to let go of their hard exterior—at least with you, and maybe eventually with others as well.

Lead by example: Be a model for a better way of leadership. Show your leader that appreciation, recognition and reassurance lead to better results than intimidation, and they may start paying attention. Demonstrate to your leader, and to others on your team, what open and authentic leadership looks like.

Leadership through intimidation often gives rise to mistrust and skepticism, and the consequences to people, teams and organizations can be deep and long-lasting. If you’re in leadership yourself, take stock of yourself to make sure you’re not guilty of intimidation. And if you’re working for someone who exhibits patterns of intimidating behavior, do everything you can to deal with it and turn it around—and keep yourself healthy and grounded in spite of their efforts.

Lead from within: Leadership at its best is based upon inspiration and motivation, not domination or intimidation.


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The Leadership Gap
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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