I transposed this from Jocko Willink’s podcast (ex-Navy Seal Commander). His answer to this question was so profound I just had to share it! Enjoy.
People always get into adversarial relationships with me. I’ve been told that I’m scary before, but never understood why. How do I maneuver around this without looking weak to appear less threatening? Do I accept that I appear to rub people the wrong way?
Jocko’s Answer (edited and rearranged):
It’s definitely time for some self awareness here. It sounds like you are an abrasive person that intimidates people. I know what it’s like to be that person because I could come across as intimidating.
You might be looking for reinforcement, like, “Hey those people are scared of you and don’t deserve your mercy.” Or, “Use your intimidation factor to overrun those people.” But you’re not going to get that here because that’s not going to help you.
So whenever I hear this type of question, I think there is some little insecurity going on. That’s not an insult, but that’s what I sense because everyone has insecurities, I do, you do too.
You talk about people being scared of you, but the fact is that you’re the one that’s scared.
And you actually said it yourself that you don’t want to appear to be “weak.” You don’t want to appear like a bitch. That feeling?
Fear of looking weak.
Fear of looking wrong.
Fear of failure.
Fear of vulnerability.
And those are real. Everybody should be feeling those fears at some level, but you have to overcome those fears. If you don’t, then how are you ever going to step up? If you’re too afraid to be wrong, how are you going to answer a question? If you’re too afraid to look weak, how are you ever going to expose any weakness? And if you don’t expose any weaknesses, well then, just build a bunker around yourself and sit in it by yourself.
And I don’t know what insecurities you have, it could be any number of things:
You don’t think you’re as smart as they are.
You don’t think you’re as charismatic as they are.
Maybe you don’t think you have the strategic vision that they have.
Whatever those insecurities are, it’s all good. We all got ’em. No big deal. But if you stop hiding them and start owning them, then not only will you become a better leader, but you will become a better person.
As a leader, you need to develop relationships up and down the chain of command, that’s what you’re supposed to do. That means you need to communicate with people. That means you need to talk, you need to listen, and you need to develop trust.
One of the ways to develop trust with other people is by exposing some vulnerability. You can say:
“Hey Bill, I’m not sure how to do this,” or,
“Hey Susan, can you help me with this issue, I don’t know how to solve it.”
Those are ways to build trust and thereby build relationships. It’s hard to do that because you don’t want to look stupid, you don’t want to look weak, you don’t want to admit that you don’t know something, because you want to be Mr. Strong and know it all.
And so, you’re probably putting up a front. An aggressive front. An abrasive front. It’s a wall to keep other people intimidated. In your mind you’re thinking, “It’s not my fault, it’s their fault that they’re scared of me! It’s their fault because I’m so intimidating!”
Wrong. The better thing to do is humble yourself.
Open yourself up to the pain and discomfort of displaying weakness, error, and failure.
Open yourself up to trying to be nice to other people instead of being scared of what’s going to happen if you expose yourself. Go ahead and throw it out there. Act pleasant to them so they talk to you without fear and in doing those things you can overcome whatever insecurities you have.
So to your last question… “Should I just accept that I rub people the wrong way?” You can. You can accept that you rub people the wrong way, but then you might as well accept that you’re never going to be a true leader.
That you’re never going to build any relationships, that you’re never going to inspire anybody, and that you’re never going to be a leader of a unified high performing team…
Probably not worth it.
So, take a breath and get humble. And take another crack at this gig.
Check out Jocko Willink’s podcast if you haven’t heard of him, he’s awesome.