Are You a Scary Manager?

How scary are you as a manager? An article in the Harvard Business Review about intimidating bosses caught my attention. You can read it here.

It is written by a professor and a consultant. The premise is that managers are scarier to their employees than they think. Most of this, they say, is because of a boss’s position and labels, such as “boss”, “head of ER”, or “CEO”. Also, attributes like “tall”, “confident” or “high-potential” can convey an intimidating aura about the boss that is scary to subordinates.

Facial Expressions

Then, the authors go through a series of remedies that you, as a boss, can use to be less scary to your subordinates. They say to “watch your face”. People pay attention to your facial expressions and nonverbal cues to determine your attitudes about them and situations.

You may frown when you are thinking deeply, and others may interpret that as a sign of disapproval. Or if you smile, others may see that as a smirk.

Be Aware

So, apparently, according to these academics, the solution to not being scary to your subordinates is to be aware of your facial expressions and moderate them just in case people misinterpret them as intimidating.

These authors actually consult with businesses on this level. They assume that people react mostly to facial expressions in communication. So, bosses need to pay more attention to their faces to appear to be friendlier to their employees. That will fix their “scariness”.


It’s Not Your Face. It’s Your Heart

Employees are connected at a much deeper level to their bosses than expressions. Edwin Friedman’s book, “Failure of Nerve”, states that every company culture reflects the head and every company department reflects its manager.

Every boss sets the culture with who they are in their heart. I am currently working with a consulting company that has 70,000 employees. I have never met the CEO, or seen his face, and do not even know who he is, but I, and all the people I work with, can sense exactly what kind of person he is.

Employees are Not Fooled

A boss is as intimidating as their attitude about their employees. Scary bosses are scary because they enjoy their power and perceive themselves superior to their employees. They may not think or say they are scary, but the employees will feel what they project, regardless of facial expressions, or smiles, or friendly words.

You are Always Real

Whether you want to be or not, your subordinates know who you are. If you view them as inferior to you, they will probably be intimidated. If you value them and view them as important, you will not be scary to them.

People want themselves and their work to matter. Especially to you. To attempt some kind of friendly unnatural expressions when you interact with them will be even worse.

As a manager, you have “positional power”. Pay attention to how you feel about your subordinates. That’s how scary you really are as a manager. Your face will automatically follow what’s in your heart.

Jack Zoellner (Relational Leadership Speaker)

Jack Zoellner is the "Relational Leadership Speaker." He shares his revolutionary 5-step M.A.G.I.C. method for managing workers and radical company culture change through speaking, writing and consulting. For your next event, book Jack here >>