Intensity 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 “jerk 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!

This blog originally appeared at, and Information Management.

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