Megan Reitz and John Higgins have written a good Harvard Business Review article titled, "Managers, You’re More Intimidating Than You Think." They write,
Most of us believe that we’re approachable to our employees. In a survey we conducted with 4,000 professionals, two-thirds reported they are never or rarely scary to those junior to them. We’re even more sure that we’re approachable to those who are our hierarchical equals or superiors. Asked whether their peers and their bosses would find them scary, 75% of respondents said it was extremely unlikely in the case of their peers and 80% in the case of their boss.
Yet we know from our other research streams of the last five years that many people think twice before speaking up in organizations because they find colleagues intimidating. This doesn’t add up. Other research shows that managers in particular need to accept that people see them as much scarier than they realize — and it’s hurting their businesses.
My research and experience working with executives at many companies confirms the conclusions presented here by Reitz and Higgins. The self-perception of leaders often does not match the perceptions of those who work for them. Most leaders do not have any sense of the fear that they have instilled in their people. At times, of course, it's not anything major that the leaders have done. It's simply the fact that employees in many organizations have a natural reticence to speak up. It seems to come with the territory in most large firms. Leaders need to lower the barriers, and it starts with recognizing how intimating they may appear to others.