Perhaps you’ve had managers who expected things to be done their way, with little appreciation for your decisions and ideas. Think back to that time, and imagine how it felt. If you’ve had managers who were (or believed they were) authorities on everything and expected you, who are very smart and creative, to do things their way, chances are you weren’t happy. Maybe you even left that position to work for someone who appreciated your ideas and treated you as an equal thinking partner.
How did it feel to be seen as an equal by your manager? I’ll bet it felt like freedom. And you likely wanted to work for that manager forever (or one like them) because you are clever and insightful and wanted to add your thoughts and ideas to the important discussions about your work and organization. Maybe your manager even asked you what you thought (and an incredible feeling of being valued followed).
This is what being treated as an equal is like. Even in our hierarchical organizations equality has a place. This is true because nobody has a corner on the best ideas about vision, mission and strategy. And it’s also true because people want some autonomy in how they get from A to B in their work. Besides, most people – including the smart ones you hire – love to think for themselves.
You’ve worked hard for your spot in the hierarchy which you might think makes you smarter than everyone else. But it really means you have a responsibility to help people grow and develop, to contribute their ideas and to feel free to say what they are thinking.
Help them to think by believing they are equals and then treating them like that. This is what you’ll observe:
Better decisions because people feel free to contribute in a way that wouldn’t happen if you didn’t believe they were equals or if you thought you were the person with the best ideas. You don’t want people to shut down, you want their ideas so the best decisions can be made for your organization.
Different perspectives which lead to the creativity you’ve craved. It’s very hard to be creative by yourself. It’s much easier to have a team or group of thinking partners who you appreciate and know will add value to your organization. If you really appreciate different (or even weird) perspectives that will spark new ideas, then you’ll treat others as equals.
Trusting relationships that give you and others the kind of information they need. Nobody is hoarding knowledge and everyone feels free to give respectful feedback. Because if you don’t know what others really want to say, that can destroy you and your organization. Ask them what they think, and listen even when you disagree. Your relationships will then be built on trust.
Improved results. I don’t know for a fact that improved results will follow when you treat others as equals, but I’m betting on it. Who wouldn’t want to work for someone who appreciates their thoughts and values their opinions. And when that happens, people work hard to get results because they’re invested.
Ask yourself if you believe that others are equal to you in their ability to contribute to the work of your organization. At the same time, consider how hard it is to be the smartest person in the room! If you believe that others are equal to you, are you acting on it?