How Hierarchy Impacts Your Presence


When you participate in events with professionals who hold a much higher or lower position than you, does it make you uncomfortable? As someone not yet in the executive ranks, do you wonder how you can make a positive impression on that senior leader who barely knows you? Or, as a senior leader, do you wonder how awkward it will be to talk to someone who is at a completely different stage in his or her life and career?

Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, has truly mastered the art of removing hierarchy from the equation when she engages with others. I have learned a lot from observing her, and she wrote the foreword to my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. – Leadership Through a New Lens. As I have gotten to know Colleen, I have noticed three things that she consistently does. As simple as these strategies may seem, they can make a huge difference.

1. Relate to people as people

Imagine for a moment that titles and positions have no relevance. How would you approach the person if you were just trying to get to know her and trying to make her feel comfortable talking to a stranger? What would you want to ask? What would you share about yourself?

2. Be yourself

People can always sense authenticity. Rather than trying to live up to a certain image, remember what others appreciate about you and let that show – whether it’s your sense of humor, ability to tell stories, or some other aspect of your personality. In advance of your interaction, think about how you want to “show up” and what you want others to take from their conversation with you.

3. Take a genuine interest in others

The simplest way to take an interest in others is by asking questions and being fully present as they answer. Allow yourself to go beyond surface level small talk. To get started, you can always ease into a conversation by inquiring about people's interests, families, or vacation plans. This will allow you to quickly find common ground to build on and set the stage for an even better conversation next time.

So, this week, I want to challenge you to think about how hierarchy impacts your presence and to try one of the strategies above. You might be surprised at the difference it makes.

© 2013 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

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