Leadership Caffeine™-4 Rules for Getting Intensity Right

image of a coffee cupIntensity is a powerful leadership tool that when wielded with laser precision, can help focus, engage and inspire your team members.

The art of using intensity as a leadership tool is finding the right balance between personal humility and professional will to ensure that you are perceived as focused and committed, not angry or irrationally obsessed. There’s most definitely a fine line between the two. Cross this line in the wrong direction and instead of promoting a high performance team, you’re likely to be in the running for [email protected]@hole of the year in the boss category.

4 Key Rules for Getting Intensity Right:

1. Be Authentic. Your team members can sense a lack of authenticity a mile away. Your commitment to the mission at hand must come through in your every word, action and during every encounter. Your agenda must be perceived as genuine and clear, free of politics and any hint of self-promotion. You must be perceived as someone who can admit mistakes and who doesn’t have to know all of the answers. Of course, your words, demeanor and intensity at all times must show confidence in the ability of your team members to find the answers and recover from mistakes.

2. Be Empathetic. The most effective high intensity leaders I’ve observed are incredibly well-attuned to their team members as individuals. They make authentic connections, they understand the battles and challenges inside of their team members and they respectfully tailor their approach to guiding and coaching the individual based on these insights. They also understand that when failure occasionally rears its’ ugly head, good teams don’t need yelling or false cheerleading, they need to grieve a bit and then turn that grief into productive frustration and then renewed commitment.

3. Learn to Adjust the Volume to the Situation. Intensity doesn’t equate directly to noise. False cheerleading, dumb slogans and aggressive pontificating are incredibly counterproductive. High Intensity Leaders communicate and show their focus through their engagement, encouragement and feedback, not just the volume or frequency of their communiqués. Some of the most successful and intense leaders I’ve observed are relatively quiet but very deliberate in their communication approaches. They understand when it is time to standup and be heard, and they understand when silence communicates volumes.

4. Teach Your Team Members to Set High Expectations for Themselves. Your own high expectations are a must. However, you know it’s working when the level of expectations for performance are driven not by you, but by the attitudes and commitment of your team members. If you’ve done a good job selecting team members and fostering an effective performance environment (one without fear), early successes beget higher personal expectations and serve as fuel for future performance.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Intensity screams commitment to me more than it describes volume. Much like Collins’ concept of the Level 5 Leader, the High Intensity Leader has that paradoxical combination of qualities of strong personal humility plus incredible personal will for the team or firm to succeed. Get those two out of balance and you risk being a mouthpiece or simply a caricature of an effective leader. Wield your intensity with an equal portion of humility and you and your team will go far!

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By |2016-10-22T17:11:23+00:00February 4th, 2013|Career, Leadership, Leadership Caffeine|4 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. DW Martin February 6, 2013 at 10:47 am - Reply

    Most people don’t actively seek out “intense” friends, so why would anyone want to work for an “intense boss”?

    Of all the people I’ve worked for, the worst had one thing in common: They were intense about everything and had no perspective.

    I think “dedication” applies better to your points above. People want to work w/someone that’s invested, not someone that you feel like your walking on egg shells around.

    Studies on the Millennial workforce are proving this every day.

    • Art Petty February 6, 2013 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Thanks for setting me straight! I’ll opt for the spirit of the points described and skip the semantic debate. Art

  2. Weekly Wow » Kristin M Woodman February 6, 2013 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    […] Increase Your Intensity – I joked around with my team when I received this article, asking if they thought I needed to be more intense.  Answer?  NO!  Reading the article, it was more about how to balance your intensity, which I found to be more useful than the original email I received implied. […]

  3. doug mayblum February 7, 2013 at 11:18 am - Reply

    I tend to disagree with some of the comments above. No need to apologize for being intense. The supporting points create the appropriate balance. Nothing wrong with being a demanding leader when that leader actively practices AUTHENTIC empathy (support) and exhibits true humility.

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