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Posted on: Friday, 22 January 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Fred sits high up on the pecking order of Multiplitaxion Inc. He is notoriously famous for meticulously planning his projects by the man-hour and maintaining hugely elaborate Gantt Charts which he uses to track people by-the-day.

He is in control.

When did Jack the developer come in today morning. How many hours of work did he do today. What did Jack do yesterday.

Fred knows it all.

Panic buttons, artificial deadlines, pressure techniques - Fred has has all the arrows in his management quiver.

Arrows which he fires from time to time.

And then there is a secret arrow which never misses its target, even if all the other arrows do not work.

Intimidation.

The use of I-am-highly-disappointed-in-you line of conversation is just for starters. Fred can go far in this line of discussion and he can seriously make you hate yourself after just thirty minutes with him in a meeting room.

Fred is young. Fred is taking his first steps of professional management. Fred is ambitious and merciless. Fred, dear reader, is getting things done.

Fred has tasted success with Management-by-intimidation and he has no intentions of stopping.

I see Fred function and I cringe.

More than I feel sorry for the people that work with Fred, I feel sorry for Fred himself.

What Fred is doing, dear reader, is pretty similar to drunk driving. You feel the rush of adrenalin in your nerves, you feel like the top of the world and you keep moving faster till you crash your way into a sudden accident.

With Management-By-Intimidation the sudden accidents happen when you forget:

  1. There are people sitting higher up than you in pecking order.
  2. Even though some of them are really nice-to-work-with-even-when-the-sky-is-falling they can be really big a@#holes when they spot a@#holes and have to deal with them.
  3. Just when you think that no one is watching you intimidate young engineers fresh out of college, someone who is higher up in the pecking order and can be a bigger a@#hole than you if he wants to be, is either watching you or will find out.

Monica Burns-Capers describes this in her article on Management by intimidation. She explains:

Managing by intimidation is never the right way in any organization. If it has worked for you now or in the past, you’ll soon regret it. While you are busy intimidating your staff, someone in a higher position is paying attention. You think you are getting away with it because nobody has said anything. You’re not. It’s only a matter of time now. The higher-ups are waiting on you to hang yourself. And you will. You can’t possibly think that your intimidation will go on forever. When you hang yourself, watch how far down the hill your career starts to plummet. It’ll go so far down, you won’t be able to see it anymore.

So if you want longevity in your career and you want to gain the respect of your subordinates and your colleagues, learn to give them respect first. Tell them that they are doing a good job sometimes. Reward them for their work.

Manage your staff by the knowledge and people skills that you posses. Besides, isn’t that what got you the position in the first place.

Even in the most bureaucratic of organizations, if you work hard at making yourself hated and disliked, you will eventually be hated and disliked, consistently across the organization.

When you play around with intimidation as a tool, you typically get a lot more attention as a manager and you create huge ripples (sometimes even waves) in the organizational pond.

If you ask me personally, I have seen more than a dozen managers who believed in the idea of intimidation get fired and yet, every year, I bump into at-least one or two managers who tend to practice the art of management-by-intimidation, within closed doors of meeting room. Every single one of them seem to believe that no-one in the pecking order above them will find out and as long as things get done.

Almost invariably, every single one of them tend to become insanely famous as a@#holes and end up collecting dislike and hatred enough to get them fired.

Remember, management by intimidation is pretty much like drunk driving. It is not just a stupid thing to do, it is actually pretty risky.

I leave you, dear reader, with a word of advice: even if you are having a bad day or you are getting a strong urge to shout at someone, be nice. It helps you much more than the person you are being nice to.

Empathy happens to be much more powerful arrow to have in your quicker and it is just as accurate when it comes to hitting the bulls-eye. Go ahead, and replace intimidation with empathy and you just might see some serious magic in your work life.

I wish you good luck.