Seniority is not Superiority

A woman stood in front of a board that reads be a leader not a boss

There is often talk of inclusion, of wanting people to feel confident to be themselves and to request any accessibility adjustments or accommodations they need. Of course, that’s just what we should be hearing. However actions speak louder than words and behaviours can sometimes stop exactly that from happening.

How many times have you heard someone say they couldn’t raise an issue because it would be challenging someone more senior?

Have you ever seen people waste time trying to perfect the formatting of a slide pack, to be used just one time, to provide an update to a senior leader? I know I have and many times people have actually become quite anxious in the lead up to the meeting.

I can even tell you that I have experienced people get in to quite a panic because a senior leader was coming to the office and they needed to give the right impression. I struggle with this, as surely you should be doing that every day no matter who’s in the office. It should be about delivery and quality of that delivery, rather than how many folders are on your desk at one time or if you are wearing a tie.

These highly hierarchical cultures can make true inclusion very difficult to achieve and from my own experience do not enable effective progress and innovation. I truly believe to get the best out of everyone and to enable business success we need a more even playing field.

I am not suggesting we scrap hierarchy, we need accountability for decision making. However, I am suggesting we put more human centricity in to the work place with a big helping of humility. Those in senior positions should be proud of their own achievements, however they should also recognise those who enabled them to get there. Practicing active listening, with open door policies, can go a long way to building an inclusive culture.

A wise man once told me that it wasn’t until he stopped thinking his ideas were always the best and stopped recruiting carbon copies of himself, he started seeing better ideas and more progress. He also told me that job grade doesn’t define the quality of those ideas and it takes a whole organisation to make it successful. After all, if it didn’t, some of those roles wouldn’t exist.

My personal opinion is that I am neither more superior nor inferior to anyone else. The level of respect I afford people isn’t based on any job grade or personal attribute, but on their behaviour and whether I believe they also afford me the same courtesy. I also feel strongly that someone’s current job grade doesn’t define their capabilities; they may be starting out, getting back in to the work place, in a role that enables them to manage their personal commitments or wellbeing, or simply in a role they enjoy.

Let’s all make efforts to ensure all of our colleagues know they are appreciated and respected. Culture can take time to change, however a kind word and listening can start today.

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