Are you scary?

Frightened emoji characterYou might be more scary than you think.

A recent Harvard Business Review article cites research indicating that although 66 percent of survey respondents said they were “never” or “rarely” scary to their employees … that wasn’t necessarily their employees’ experience.

Simply by virtue of your title, you may appear intimidating to your team – even if that title seems relatively innocuous or even junior-level to you.

We like to think we’re approachable; we have an open-door policy; we say we value feedback; and we claim it’s okay to make mistakes.

But when push comes to shove, do the people on your team really believe they can come to you with challenging questions or – worse yet! – with the news that something’s gone wrong? The article I mention above references issues such as the recent Boeing 737 Max safety failures; other instances that come to mind are the Challenger explosion and ethics breakdowns such as at Volkswagen and Wells Fargo.

I’m not suggesting you’re facing any such #epicfail situation as those. (Though I’d guess that initially, the people in those situations didn’t think they were either!)

What I am suggesting is that being aware of your potential scaryness is important in building trust and creating an environment where your team is comfortable raising tough issues with you.

This isn’t about being a pushover; leaders need to maintain high standards for all types of behavior.

But it is about recognizing that, for some people at least, your title alone – your position in the organizational hierarchy – may create hesitation and uncertainty about speaking up when necessary. Add to that personal (and unintentional) behavior characteristics, such as frowning when in deep thought, or getting testy / cranky under certain conditions – and you can be more scary than you might think.

Team members afraid to bring up ideas, challenge a course of action, or confront a true ethical crisis – we all think it can’t happen to us.

But it can.

Check your scary factor!