Those who work within a culture that is intimidating will be less creative and less committed and overall will feel disempowered with an experience of lost personal self-esteem. Image Credit: Supplied

A manager said to me the other day that he manages his team by intimidation because, he said, it was the only way he could get things done. So, as you can imagine, I gave some considerable thought to the comment.

Managing by intimidation is a management strategy for controlling people through the use of direct or implied threats that are dependent upon an individual’s inherent anxiety about his or her job. Some people are more vulnerable to such threatening behaviour than others and much may depend on individual self-esteem and inner strength that have been either strengthened or weakened by previous personal experiences.

We each carry with us the knowledge or practical wisdom gained from past encounters and observations of how we have managed, or failed to manage, previous uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.

Managing by intimidation is a classic way of invoking fear in the individual concerned and relies on the perpetrator using the psychology of power to invoke, in the subject, a distressing emotion aroused by impending loss, danger or pain. Whether or not the threat is real or imagined, it nevertheless will arouse a condition of apprehension or insecurity.

If you were to ask your employees as to how they would describe the corporate culture within their organisation, would some describe it as intimidating? Or would the majority define it as a culture that encourages all staff and employees, on all levels, to be contributing members of a corporate family that operates for the benefit of everyone within a group that shares common attitudes, interests and goals?


You can assess this yourself by asking the following questions:


• Does your organisation have a published mission statement that is adhered to? Or is it ignored or even non-existent?

• Are there published rules, prominently displayed, that clearly state the procedures laid down for reporting mismanagement, intimidation, bullying or corruption?

• Do senior managers make all major decisions in secret and just drip-feed pieces of information to staff as and when they feel it should be heard?

• Do your employees feel they need to stay longer in the office than their boss just to show they are working?

• Does the atmosphere change when a particular manager or director comes into the room?

• Are employees encouraged to share ideas and concepts without having to worry about saying something that might prejudice their future career prospects?

• Does your organisation pride itself on one of openness and trust? Or is there an underlying fear where people are frightened to make any comment for fear of some type of personal retaliation?

• Does your company or organisation encourage managers and departmental heads to micro-manage projects and workloads? Or is there a culture that encourages working without supervision?

• Is everyone encouraged to share information, where advantageous? Or are individuals allowed to act detrimentally as self-appointed ‘gatekeepers’ to specific information that only they hold?

• Is work-specific training freely available when needed or only ‘on-the-job’ learning?

• Does the company encourage regular feedback appraisals from both departments and individuals and then act upon the resulting knowledge gained?


One or more of the above situations would appear to indicate an organisational culture that is not conducive to a healthy corporate environment that encourages co-operation and openness between departments, teams and individuals and thus assist growth and gain a competitive advantage. Groups of people working together need the ability to thrive within an environment that assists and complements growth — very much the same as a garden needs essential sunshine and water.

Those who work within a culture that is intimidating will never give of their best. They will be less creative and less committed and overall will feel disempowered with an experience of lost personal self-esteem.

Some companies and organisations still operate on a strictly hierarchal, ‘top-down’ system of management that allows no comment or criticism; that accept no suggestion for improvement or modernization from staff, and which, inevitably, eventually leads to falling behind more forward-looking competitors.

Competitive advantage attained through a satisfied, enthusiastic staff is an imperative in today’s fast-moving, commercial world. Intimidation at any level can completely destroy that advantage, over time.


Key Points


* An open culture is essential to success.

* Intimidation damages any organisation.

* A happy workforce achieves its targets.



— The author is a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international Stress Management consultancy and her new book, ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available in all good bookshops.