11 Evil Leadership Techniques

My darkest leadership tricks that no-one will tell you about.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


I’ve got some evil lead­er­ship tech­niques to share.

Sometimes, I’m the boss.

I usu­ally do well as a lead­er. I’m com­fort­able being in charge and hav­ing oth­ers depend on my decisions. I’m calm, con­fid­ent, and communicative.

Still, I won’t hes­it­ate to use psy­cho­lo­gic­al tricks to get the job done. 

Allow me to share some of these evil lead­er­ship techniques.

Here we go:

1. The Push-Up Effect

For 15 long (and cold) months, I served as a pla­toon com­mand­er in the Swedish armed forces. As a ser­geant, I learned a valu­able les­son from lead­ing man­dat­ory phys­ic­al exer­cise ses­sions every morning:

If you order a group of well-trained men to do 30 push-ups, they’ll do 30. 

However, if you order them to do push-ups on your count without giv­ing them a push-up goal to aim for, even the toughest recruits will start to moan at 15 push-ups.

The les­son? Information is power. Yield it.

If you want to get the most from your team, give them the big­ger pic­ture. If you want to break people down before build­ing them up again, deprive them of basic information.

2. Have Your Instructions Repeated

When ask­ing someone to do some­thing, ask them to repeat your instruc­tions. You will quickly learn that your instruc­tions weren’t as straight­for­ward as they soun­ded in your head.

Communication is dif­fi­cult. Our brains are com­plex. When two brains com­mu­nic­ate, massive amounts of noise dis­tort the sig­nals. We’re all drown­ing in pre­con­cep­tions and biases.

It’s won­drous that we man­age to get any­thing across at all.

Why is it evil to have someone repeat your instruc­tions until they are 100% cor­rect? Because if your sub­jects fuck up your instruc­tions any­way, they won’t con­vince them­selves that it was some­how your fault.

People who know they fucked up once will go the extra mile next time.

When del­eg­at­ing, have the team lead­er repeat your instruc­tions back to you. Now, it’s not just your words echo­ing in their heads — it’s their own, too.

3. Pace Your Leadership

Here’s a chal­len­ging dicho­tomy of leadership:

Your team won’t respect you if you nev­er get your hands dirty. 

But if you get your hands dirty all the time, your team will kick back and applaud you (while watch­ing you do the work). And then they won’t respect you, either.

This is also some­thing I learned while serving in the military: 

When the sun was shin­ing, our ter­rain vehicles were func­tion­al, and every­one had some­thing to eat, then I was the officer who nev­er lif­ted a finger.

But as the cold came upon us, in the dead of night, our vehicles broke down, and the fire wouldn’t light, and every­one was hungry and at the brink of exhaus­tion — I was res­ted and strong. 

In extreme con­di­tions, when they needed my lead­er­ship the most, I rose to the occa­sion like a Phoenix out of the ashes of their des­pair. Since I hadn’t been sweat­ing through my clothes all day, I could switch gears, make decisions, and fix stuff with a clear head. 

And with each dis­play of Herculean strength, my lead­er­ship legend grew. 

Don’t waste your lead­er­ship energy. Save your strength for situ­ations when your team is the most sus­cept­ible for a full-on lead­er­ship dis­play where you demon­strate your crush­ing competence.

4. Have Your Instructions Written Down

I’m a digit­al guy. But digit­al devices run out of bat­tery. And they make annoy­ing sounds dur­ing your agency briefing. 

So, I like note-tak­ing to be done the old-fash­ioned way; I always ask my agency team to carry a note­book with them. I sug­gest Moleskine or Field Notes—because I’m a note­book snob.

I don’t care if any­one has a per­fect memory or not. If I give instruc­tions, those instruc­tions must be writ­ten down. I want to see pen to paper. 

The psy­cho­logy is simple: No one except for the trouble­makers will com­plain about being promp­ted to take notes. They will demon­strate their defi­ance by say­ing, “It’s okay; I don’t need to write it down.”

Well, now I know who they are.

Be strict with note-tak­ing. And the young­er the team, the more crit­ic­al it is to abide by this rule. Write. It. Down.

5. Never Give Subjects Solutions

If you, as a lead­er, are too help­ful, the team can respond by shut­ting down their brains. I’ve seen it hap­pen many times. 

If a sub­ject comes to you with a prob­lem, ask­ing for a solu­tion, you shouldn’t just hand it over. Even if you eas­ily could.

Here’s what to do instead: tell your sub­ject to come back with two pos­sible solu­tions to their prob­lem. Then, when they return, you ask them which of the two solu­tions they prefer. 

Nine times out of ten, your sub­jects will arrive at the cor­rect answer alone.

Here’s the psychology:

The pro­cess of first ask­ing for help, only to be told to come up with not one but two pos­sible solu­tions, and then be asked to make a choice, is men­tally drain­ing. They will start look­ing for shortcuts.

Since you trust their judge­ment, the sub­jects will find it easi­er to come to you with their best solu­tions dir­ectly — instead of their first question.

Please don’t give it away when someone asks for a solu­tion. Your job is to make people think for them­selves, not have them become depend­ent on you think­ing for them.

6. Use Pavlovian Psychology

Dogs respond poorly to neg­at­ive feed­back. It puts them in a state of fear, sub­mis­sion — or both. The pro­spect of being shunned by their pack scares the liv­ing day­lights. Fearful dogs can be dan­ger­ous and irrational.

Conversely, dogs are depend­ent on pos­it­ive rein­force­ments from their pack. A brief absence of such pos­it­ive feed­back makes them alert and attentive.

Pavlov Dogs - Doctor Spin - The PR Dog
We’re all just anim­als, right?

Human beings, I find, aren’t that different.

  • The basic rule of beha­vi­our­al psy­cho­logy is that you get more of what you reinforce.

Many of us, too, respond poorly to neg­at­ive feed­back. It’s chal­len­ging to get through to a per­son who is in a fear­ful state. 

I’ve found that using pos­it­ive rein­force­ment and the absence of pos­it­ive rein­force­ment works wonders. 

When you’re happy with your sub­jects’ per­form­ance, praise them. When you’re not sat­is­fied, give them nothing.

7. Leave the Party when You’re Ahead

Don’t get drunk with your team. Have fun, drink mod­er­ately and then, before it gets too late, call it a night and get out of dodge. 

Go home and spend some qual­ity time with your fam­ily or something.

It doesn’t mat­ter if you’re “the coolest boss” ever. (Hint: You’re not.) Not even twelve shots of vodka will change the fact that you have “hir­ing and fir­ing” power. You nego­ti­ate people’s salar­ies, allow­ing them to put food on their tables. 

Yes, you might miss a crazy, fun night out. Yes, they might think that you’re a bore. But the cor­rect answer is always: Go home.

It’s not that you might make a fool of your­self (although that may be a risk.) The day after, and many days after, your team will admire your dis­cip­line and be thank­ful they got to party without their boss present.

I occa­sion­ally let the team get drunk togeth­er, play spin the bottle, and dance on tables all night. But it would be best if you left early.

8. Allow Yourself Tactical Time-Outs

Here’s yet anoth­er mil­it­ary lead­er­ship hack: Imagine nav­ig­at­ing your team through the woods. 

After a while, you real­ise that you’re lost. Oops.

Now, you could inform the group that you’ve lost your bear­ings com­pletely (and that they prob­ably will miss their next meal). 

In the­ory, your team could poten­tially help you get your bear­ings back. However, their tired minds will most likely go into “rep­tile mode”:

  • How could this happen?” 
  • Why did this happen?” 
  • What will hap­pen now?”
  • Who is to blame for this?”
  • Why is no one listen­ing to my frustrations?

Instead of just hav­ing one prob­lem (i.e. being unable to pin­point your loc­a­tion), you now have dozens of fear­ful rep­tile brains to deal with. 

Instead, take a break, occupy the team with a task — and take the cleverest per­son aside. With that per­son, you scope the lay of the land (i.e. your exist­ing situ­ation), and you cal­ib­rate your tools (i.e. your map and compass).

Then, return to the team with new­found con­fid­ence and present a new dir­ec­tion. Practice this beha­viour, and your team will feel safe, not anxious, whenev­er you decide to step away for a little while.

Take a time-out when a decision is needed, and you don’t know where you stand. In the long run, your team will feel safe whenev­er you step away for a little while.

Read also: Zombie Apocalypse Survival Skills for PR Professionals

9. Be Wrong Quickly

I could nev­er have guessed that lead­er­ship was so much about guess­work. Yes, your gut instinct will sig­ni­fic­antly affect most of your day-to-day oper­a­tions, so you should get used to it. You’ll still make decisions based on too little inform­a­tion even if you acquire all the information.

A quick decision is bet­ter than a per­fect decision made too late.”

Not know­ing if you are about to make the right or the wrong decision is scary. But if there’s no way for you to make a more informed decision, then make the bloody decision and be done with it.

Make timely decisions and deal swiftly with the con­sequences. You’ll nev­er have the lux­ury of enough inform­a­tion any­way. Get it over with and keep push­ing forward.

10. Set Troublemakers Straight

In any group, it’s often easy to spot the poten­tial trouble­makers, sub­jects who will try to make you look bad in front of your team. Instead of wait­ing for them to make their move, take them aside indi­vidu­ally and make a deal with them: 

As your team lead­er, I will be mak­ing lots of mis­takes. It’s part of being a lead­er, as I’m sure you’ll get to exper­i­ence your­self one day. I’ve noticed that you’re clev­er, and you’ll prob­ably pick up on my mis­takes before the rest of the group. I would ask you to make me aware of these mis­takes face-to-face and nev­er before the whole group. 

Such a con­ver­sa­tion will make under­min­ing your author­ity more dif­fi­cult for the trouble­maker. Troublemakers often thrive on being right, but break­ing your deal would put them wrong.

Strike deals with poten­tial trouble­makers pro­act­ively. They might not respect you yet, but you can often rely on their will to act consistently.

11. Be Tough at First

They’ll like you if you are too friendly with your sub­jects from the start. But as soon as you tell them to do some­thing uncom­fort­able, they’ll start to act up. And if you then get tough on them, they’ll rebel against your author­ity. Instead, flip this nar­rat­ive with this hack: Start with being extremely tough on your sub­jects. Give them uncom­fort­able assign­ments right from the start — and accept no excuses:

Quench all com­plaints and whin­ing. Never let any­thing less than ‘per­fect’ get past your approv­al. Then, after this ini­tial “hell phase,” you can start los­ing your grip gradu­ally. And, sud­denly, by being a mon­ster at the begin­ning of your rela­tion­ship, the love for you as a lead­er will grow stronger and stronger.

Be tough first, nice second. Let your sub­jects earn your good graces.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

The cover photo has



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