#9 – Mr Bombastic – Power Up and Talk Down


#9 Power Up and Talk Down

The Dumb Leader walked into the building surrounded by his entourage. He eyed the people inside with some suspicion as he started to make his rounds. The manager of the location was called down to meet with the DL. It was a visit he had been dreading.

The DL, in this instance, was a senior manager in the company, a leader who had a fear-based reputation and was the exact antithesis of the culture the company was renowned for. But I guess, you always need one asshole, said the managers that reported to the DL.

The last time the DL had visited this location, he had toured the facility, he had walked the entire premises and had not said a word to the branch manager. It was the silent treatment he was known for when he was unhappy with managers reporting to him. It was intimidating and manipulative, but also childish and immature. It was a power-based strategy, designed to bring discomfort to the individual and allow the underling to understand that they were annoyed with them. The branch manager had been questioning himself every since.

But this time was different. And the manager was just about to find out.

The DL was in a talkative mood, but not in a nice conversational style. The DL enjoyed belittling managers and for this tour the belittling was the theme.

The DL was picky, and roundly condescending of the manager of the branch. He interrupted, found fault with everything that the manager said, and used all of his tricks to power up and talk down. The manager felt horrible before, during and after the visit. He dreaded the visit before it happened, he was made to feel completely inferior during the tour and spent far too much time trying to analyse the visit after. Thinking he must be the problem he made the decision to leave the company.

The Scenario

The above described scene was played out constantly around the company at that moment in time. The DL played the power card constantly, to hold his line managers in place and in fear. While performance was adequate, people seriously dreaded any dealings they had with the DL. The overwhelming culture of the branches and the business in general, was positive with the only noticeable blemish being the DL. The DL, believe it or not, was supportive of the culture is the do as I say method, as opposed to a do as I do method. He talked the talk, and certainly didn’t walk the walk.

The DL was ultimately identified as a problem and was given a new task of integrating a new business division into the parent company. On his removal, the business went through a unprecedented period of sustained growth, while the integrated division went through three years of decline, until it started to sprout some seeds of growth again. From all reports, the style didn’t change and the churn in the new division was high, inhibiting stability and growth. He still sits in his position with the integrated division.

The branch manager was talked into staying with the company and went along to become one of the senior leaders covering multiple branches and overseeing growth and improved culture. The lessons he learned NOT TO DO, stood him in great stead as he was able to build rapport and trust easily with his teams.

Dumb Leaders who power up and talk down do so for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they succumb to one of the basic needs as a human. Psychologist David McLennan identified three largely unconscious drives for motivation. The drive for affiliation, the drive for achievement and the drive for power. Leaders driving for power have a quest for status and this is seen as their major driver. It is interesting to note, that often the drive for power is done in complete disregard to the other two. People powering up, don’t care for affiliation and relationships, they care only for power. The same goes for achievement. They create some level of achievement based on their power base, but are often limiting the performance of others in their team due to their powering up strategy.

The power itself becomes addictive and every time they power up, they obtain a hit of dopamine, rewarding them for their behaviour. Just like a junky, the power tripper gets addicted to the feeling of power and finds it hard to change or implement new strategies.

In summary, it’s an addictive subconscious behaviour that drives the leader who powers up and talks down. They get rewarded chemically for it and like all chemical neuro pathways, they cannot be erased, it would be easy if we could. But we can’t. But the good news for power craving leaders is that we can replace the pathway. We can’t erase the neural pathway but we can replace it, and like every habit, we have a lapse can often take us back to square one.

The 3-Step Strategy

The strategy here is about shifting mindset and you can do this by re-aligning our neural pathways by enacting discipline over the process. As described, the addictive behaviour can be changed by discipline of our behaviours.

  • Have a regular self-reflection process. Analyse your behaviours and ask yourself if your decisions were made based on your quest for power, your quest for affiliation or your quest for achievement.
  • Create some self-talk focusing on your need to balance power, relationships and results. Building better relationships, and creating better results build influence for a leader and a manager.
  • Align influence instead of power. Build behaviours that build influence. Influence is where true leadership comes from, leadership built on people and better outcomes. Influence beats power everyday.


A leader on a quest for power becomes embroiled in addictive behaviours the stifle relationships and also our results. When a leader becomes aware of this, they can change the very behaviours that is causing pain to themselves and their organisation.

Photo by Marek Michalsky on Unsplash

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