You want to avoid the latter at all costs, as it can have a negative influence on your ability to lead well. Here are a few clues that you do, in fact, come across too strong.
1. Eye contact is scarce.
When someone is able to look you in the eye, it signals that they are willing to be vulnerable around you and feel safe. It also shows they are interested in you. When you intimidate others, however, they might avoid eye contact as a way of shielding themselves against your intensity, which makes them feel threatened. The subtle gesture is their way of saying they want to be done with the conversation.
2. Body language is protective.
Any body language that is closed off, such as turning slightly away from you or crossing the arms, is a defensive posture that, like a lack of eye contact, signals that this person is feeling threatened. By contrast, people will take open, relaxed postures or lean toward you when you've made them feel comfortable and equal to you.
3. You're alone in your office even with an open-door policy.
This is easily expanded to nonphysical areas such as phone calls or email. If you tell others they're free to contact you and they still stay away, that's a big tip-off that they don't feel comfortable approaching you with problems or questions. They might be finding ways to work around the issue, such as conferring with others on the team or their mentors, instead of coming to you. In the worst cases, if it's possible, others might avoid events where you are going to be because they don't want to feel uncomfortable.
4. People constantly apologize around you.
While an apology can be a heartfelt signal of remorse, it also can be a knee-jerk, subconscious way for the speaker to communicate submission to you. They see you as the rule setter and seek forgiveness when they perceive they've done something to violate your standards.
5. All of your ideas go through.
Even when you have an incredible idea, smart colleagues and team members will challenge it appropriately, asking about alternatives, logistics, costs, and timing. If you're intimidating, however, others don't feel like they're in a position to question you. This can make initial stages of projects seem very smooth, but you pay the price later when things they should have approached you about start costing you time, money, and other resources.
6. You're passed over for opportunities you know you should be a shoo-in for.
When two highly qualified people go neck and neck for a project, promotion, or other golden egg, the decision often comes down not to technical knowhow or experience, but to soft skills. That is, others look for how you're going to interact with the group and whether you can bring out the best in each person you work with. If you can't interact well and hinder others because they're fearful of you, your competitor will get the opportunity every time.
How to avoid scaring off others
If you don't want to seem intimidating, there's a lot you can do even when your clock is ticking away.
- Look for what others do well and congratulate them on their accomplishments; be truthful but humble about your own.
- Ask others how you can help and support their interests.
- Genuinely wish others luck.
- Express gratitude.
- Use open body language and maintain good eye contact--a smile makes a difference.
- Admit times when you've screwed up so others see you're human.
- Be an active listener; give others equal voice time.
- Reveal all sides of yourself, not just the go-getter persona you wear at work.
- Be a little more relaxed in your appearance--you come off as more relatably flawed if your skirt has a wrinkle or that five o'clock shadow sneaks up on you.
- Complete small acts of service or kindness through the day.
- Be a continuous, lifelong learner, which shows you don't think you know everything.
As the list above suggests, ensuring you don't intimidate others is simply about being real with others, setting aside the quest to win or be perfect, and being as compassionate to those around you as you would be to yourself. If doing those things is difficult to you, don't be afraid to explore the root causes of that hesitation with people you trust.