If you are a leader or manage a team, it is not uncommon to come across someone in your team who intimidates you. This might be because they are better than you in a particular skill and that brings your insecurities to the fore. Or it might be because the person might be overly assertive, has temperament issues and you are trying to avoid conflict.
The first of the above reasons above to feel intimidated is a good one. You should always have people in your team who are better than you in certain skills. That is what makes a strong team. On the other hand, if you never feel intimidated by the expertise of people in your team, maybe you are not hiring the right people.
The second reason, though, if left unaddressed, can have a massive impact on the culture and performance of the whole team. As human beings, we all tend to psychologically avoid conflict and create harmony. But overly aggressive people can take advantage of that unless you know where to draw the line.
Below are 3 situations in which we, as leaders, might have to deal with and manage an intimidating employee:-
Situation 1 – Employee Has Skillset That You Don’t Have
Good managers hire people who are better than them in different skillsets, so they know it is nothing to feel insecure about. When they do feel insecure (which they will feel because it is human nature to do so) they are self-aware to recognize it in themselves. They are then brave to be vulnerable and share the same with the employee (or the entire team).
A good leader will ask the employee to share his/her expertise and lead in this niche area, while the leader can provide support when required to help them do their job. This will make the employee feel good about their skill and give them opportunities and encouragement to grow further.
If they still feel intimidated or feel they can’t understand what the employee is talking about, a good leader will ask the employee to be understanding and explain things slowly and in simpler language. They also make it clear that learning to do so will help the employee build much-needed skills to communicate their ideas to a more general audience.
Good leaders are confident and not weak or fidgety. They understand everyone brings different skillets to the table, and are comfortable in their own skin.
Situation 2 – Employee Has Anger Issues and Sometimes Explodes
Good leaders make it clear that exploding in anger and saying unworthy things or using bad language is not acceptable, irrespective of how good people are at their job. They make it clear that doing so repeatedly will have consequences, even leading to dismissal. And strong managers keep their word and are strong enough to take disciplinary action when required.
They do so because they know that tolerating bad behavior sets the wrong example and can be detrimental to the culture and morale of the team. If this happens, then it is very difficult to fix and can impact the performance of the entire team.
Having said that, good managers are empathetic and listen attentively to the source of the anger. They get to the root of the problem and fix any process or other issues that might cause frustration for people, and the anger to arise in the first place. Just being a disciplinarian without being supportive never works.
Ideally, a good leader should notice any build-up of emotions in his/her people during regular interactions and 1-on-1’s and take action before the emotions lead to an explosion in anger. The best time to repair damage from an emotional storm is before the storm, not after it.
Good managers coach their people to handle their emotions in a way that is constructive – without suppressing or exploding. They understand that emotional intelligence is an important skill, and take an emotional outburst as a teaching/coaching opportunity to help others step up their Emotional Intelligence game.
Situation 3 – Employee Doesn’t Listen Because They Think They Know Better
Good managers create workplaces where listening and respecting each other for their skills is an important value. Even if people know better, they are expected to listen to different opinions with empathy and express themselves without attitude or arrogance.
Good leaders don’t tolerate awesome jerks, and let people know that they are accountable for how they do their work, and not just what they do. They are strong enough to take action when required and understand that tolerating a jerk never works in the long term as it destroys team culture.
On the other side, good managers know that everyone has different styles of communication. They give people the freedom to express themselves in their own unique way as long as they don’t cross certain boundaries. They give others a chance to improve or adapt their communication so that it does not hurt the culture of the team.
Good managers help/coach others to be better communicators. Everyone can have different styles of communication, but the objective remains the same – to express themselves, to persuade others, or to share an important message. Everyone can learn to become better communicators as it will help them do their jobs more effectively.
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” – Lao Tzu
Doing all of the above is only possible when a strong leader knows their values and what they stand for. Being comfortable in your own skin is the first step in deciding when to intervene and when to let people do what they want. As a leader, it is always a fine line between autonomy and management.
You want to give your team maximum autonomy and keep the management and control to a minimum. It helps to get the team involved proactively to jointly come up with team values and preferred ways to communicate. People are more likely to follow any guidelines and boundaries if they themselves created them.
Once these values are clear to everyone, good leaders lead by example. They live by and uphold these values – even if that means having uncomfortable conversations at times. If you are new to leadership, it might be uncomfortable to do so, but soon you learn to handle such situations with the poise and confidence of a strong leader.