Fear & Respect: Crushing the Competition

July 31, 2015

Fear and respect: Whether you’re in sports, business, or any competitive field, you’re not here to make friends. You’re here because you’re fighting to be the best, to crush the competition, and you’re not afraid to show it.

Let them know you were there by your actions, not your words or emotions. You don’t have to be loud to be the focus of attention. Think of the Godfather: he was the quietest guy in the room, surrounded by everyone else waiting to see what he would do or say, and he never had to say a word to get his message across.

Or the parent who just gives the kids that look; no lecture, no speeches. One look, maybe a word or two, and there’s nothing more to say. Complete control. That’s fear and respect in action.

I wrote about this in my book RELENTLESS, and it's the #1 topic I'm asked about when I speak to business groups: How to use mental toughness to crush the competition.

The loudest guy in the room is the one with the most to prove, and no way to prove it. A Cleaner has no need to announce his presence; you’ll know he’s there by the way he carries himself, always cool and confident. He’s never the blowhard telling you how great he is; he’s the quiet guy focused on results, because results are all that matter.

When people start broadcasting what they’re going to do, and how great they’re going to be when they do it, it’s a sure sign they’re still trying to convince themselves. If you already know, you don’t have to talk about it. Talk never goes up in price, it’s always free, and you usually get what you pay for.

You enter with confidence, and leave with results. That’s how you intimidate your opponents without saying a single word.

Michael Jordan had the best intimidation technique I’ve ever seen. You can’t do this anymore, but before certain playoff games, he’d walk into the opponents’ locker room on the pretense he had a pal on the other side and he had to say hello. Now, if you really knew him, you knew that was completely ridiculous because Michael didn’t care about saying hello to anyone, especially before a game. But try telling that to the guys in the other locker room, getting ready to play. The whole team would be sitting there, thinking about facing the world champion Chicago Bulls . . . and in walks Michael Jordan. I don’t care how long any of them had been in the game, when Michael Jordan walked in, you’d notice. He’d open that door, and the whole place would suddenly go completely silent. Everyone and everything just stopped. You could see every pair of eyes following him, watching, wondering, waiting to see what he was going to do. He’d only stay a minute, just long enough for a brief handshake with whomever he knew (or pretended to know), a quick nod around the room, and he’d leave as quickly as he’d arrived.

The Black Cat, we called him. There and gone before you knew what had happened.

He wouldn’t give it another thought. But for the stunned players sitting in that locker room, they could think of nothing else. Mission accomplished: He’d gone into their space and lodged himself in their heads for the entire game. Now they’re no longer thinking about what they have to do, they’re thinking about him. Instead of clearing their minds and getting to that cool, focused performance Zone, their minds are heating up over #23. He’s got the entire other team talking to each other about how many points the great Michael Jordan will score that night, how many he’d scored the night before, the suit he was wearing, the automobile he drove. They were no longer his opponents, they were just a bunch of fans in awe.

A player might score 20 points the night before facing the Bulls, then 2 points when he got to Chicago. And then 20 again in the next game against someone else. That wasn’t strictly about the Bulls’ defense; a guy’s skill doesn’t deteriorate for one game. What changed? Only his frame of mind. He was thinking about playing against Michael Jordan.

Wherever Michael went, there was that undeniable element of fear and respect. Everyone felt it. Every game, he’d do something unforgettable, and no one would know what it was going to be. Even he didn’t always know what it was going to be. But he’d make you wait and wonder. He always gave the other team and the crowd a wow moment, sometimes an entire wow game. In the later years of his career, when he wasn’t going to dunk every night, he’d still sneak one in every now and then just to let everyone know he could still do it. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to remind the rest of the league, “You’re next.”

Cleaners always leave behind a taste of the fear factor to give their next victims something to think about, so everyone knows they’re coming; that’s the undeniable edge they give themselves. That was one of Tiger’s greatest weapons, knowing the rest of the field was looking back to see what he was doing, waiting for him to make his move. Every tournament, every round, every hole were all about him; the only thing anyone—including the competition—wanted to know was “What did Tiger do?” But when he was struck down by scandal and injury and his game deteriorated, the competition stopped worrying about him. He no longer commanded the fear and respect that had made him an unstoppable force. Everyone else’s skills didn’t just suddenly improve. But their mental focus did.