Reader wonders if she's too mean

Dear Joan:
After reading your recent article, regarding being too nice, I began to question my own people skills.  I have been with my current employer for more than 10 years.  I am a manager.  I think I have a good professional relationship with my direct reports.  Some employees (I don’t know how many), who do not report directly to me, have gone to my boss or even their boss to tell them that I am mean/harsh/scary or some other synonymous words.  Because my work is generated from many staff persons that do not report to me, it’s necessary that I review their work in order to complete my work.  This review occurs after their work has been approved by someone else.
They may get the impression that I am mean because I am a direct person and have a reputation of “calling you on the carpet” if your work isn’t up to par.  I think I do it because that is how I wish to be treated.  But when I find it necessary to do so, I’ve always done that discretely and with respect.  I almost always give them an opportunity to ask me questions and I offer suggestions on other ways to complete the work.  So, to my knowledge, I’ve never been accused of being disrespectful to any of the staff and have been praised for developing the staff. 
When I see good work, I not only let them know but will report that to their direct supervisors.  They do resent being corrected by me and many times they get defensive and I understand that.  However, I believe that it is more expedient and effective for me to question their methods and bring to their attention any incorrect findings than to tell their supervisor to tell them and possibly have it miscommunicated or not communicated at all.
Some of these same employees who tell my boss these things about me are the same ones who regularly confide in me, invite me to their weddings, baby showers, ask my advice about work and personal issues. I have pictures of their kids. I know their spouses names. I’m told when the baby takes the first step, gets the first tooth, etc.  I’m the go-to person when things need to get done.   But when they go to lunch, or we are all at conferences together, I am on my own. No one seeks my society. It seems like I’m good if you need something, or you want to share good news, or if you need a shoulder to cry on, but if not, I’m invisible.  I know I’m the problem because I’m treated the same way at church and in my own family.  And yes, I’m direct with my family and church members, too.
I need to work on my people skills but heaven knows I don’t know where to begin!  
You have a lot of good things going for you…telling someone directly (rather than going to their boss), being interested in co-workers’ personal lives, recognizing good work, and being efficient and effective in getting things done. But being “effective” includes interpersonal effectiveness. You can still be direct but it’s the delivery that makes all the difference.
If you are indeed as “mean and scary” as people say, sharing personal tidbits about their lives and asking your advice may be, in part, a way for them to make you softer toward them—even a way for them to feel safer around you. A little like offering a scary animal a bit of food on a stick, so they won’t bite you.
The fact that you are not joined by these same people at lunch or at conferences, tells me your delivery is alienating you. They have to find a way to work with you but they wish they didn’t.
I recommend you consider using a coach to give you some communication tools that will get better results. There is no book you can read or silver bullet that will fix this. But working with someone you trust, who can give you some practical approaches to use, and then follow up to see how they worked, will enable you to change some of the behaviors you have developed in all phases of your life.  Since you value “effectiveness,” consider this a part of taking your competence to the next level.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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