Seeing Eye-to-Eye Around Your Leadership Table

I started my first full-time salaried job right out of college. My employer was fair and kind, but his office intimidated me. The décor and furniture didn’t help. He had two uncomfortable chairs opposite a large oak desk, a faded leather executive chair, an old metal filing cabinet, and a library of worn books lining the back wall. The room screamed my boss’s credentials. Very little, if anything, communicated: “Welcome! Come on in and have a seat.” Was this a window into his leadership personality or simply a snapshot of the working world portrayed in old movies? Whatever the case, his office set-up told me immediately who was in charge when I joined his leadership table.

To my boss’s credit, he never leveraged his position to put me in my place. I quickly discovered that his old-school office didn’t reflect his leadership convictions—just his aversion to Feng Shui. Still, he wasn’t wishy washy about his opinions and decisions. His firmness frustrated plenty of people time and again. On the other hand, he allowed for differences and didn’t let his ego destroy work relationships. He consistently reminded me of my equal seat at his leadership table.  He always encouraging me to be myself (even if my office had a couch instead of a credenza!). Had he not leveled the playing field, I doubt that I’d be able to work well alongside strong leaders to this day.

Sitting across from your boss can be scary, but if you’re able to see eye-to-eye, it doesn’t have to derail your leadership. As I revisit my early days as a leader, I love that my boss wanted to work as peers even though our positions weren’t the same. He downplayed who was officially in charge to elevate what we shared in common. By drawing our attention to three mutual dimensions of leadership, my employer gave me space to fully engage not sit in fear. Here they are in question form so you and your boss can start seeing eye-to-eye on influence, responsibility, and authority.

1. How well are our spheres of influence aligned?

Everyone at the leadership table has a sphere of influence. It’s breadth of impact isn’t acquired by position; rather, it’s grown over time through relationships and experience. I had no idea how little influence I started with compared to how much my boss had earned over decades. I’m grateful that he paid close attention to each of our spheres of positional and relational influence so both could align and expand for the greater good.

2. How are we supporting each other’s weight of responsibility?

I’ve always taken work seriously; it’s partly why I took my first full-time job where I did. My employer was a hard-worker and surrounded himself with highly responsible people cut from the same cloth. Instead of overburdening me with all that my role required, he regularly reminded me that my weight of responsibility wasn’t solely mine to own. He challenged me to equip people, not do everything myself, so we could all do and bear more together. My boss knew that competing over whose weight of responsibility was greater would only cripple our capacity to accomplish noble goals.

3. How equally empowered are our levels of authority?

It’s utopian to resist hierarchy, but influence and responsibility get paralyzed when leaders have no authority to see things through. This is not to say it’s ever okay to stratify people’s worth in a way that diminishes their dignity. In my first time role, I appreciated learning that both employer and employee need to be equally empowered in their distinct roles to see eye-to-eye at the leadership table. Yes, my boss’s authority was higher than mine, but he made sure that didn’t devalue me or block my ability to lead. When I needed to make the call, he honored my thoughtful decision. When I required a course-correction, he walked with me and kept me out of the line of fire. All along the way, my boss masterfully kept us both honest and engaged around the leadership table so we could stay on mission.

Don’t be mistaken—my boss and I didn’t always get along. However, our mutual commitment to seeing eye-to-eye around the leadership table made a huge difference. I encourage you to use the questions above to talk candidly with your boss, peers, and leaders at every level. Start seeing eye-to-eye about influence, responsibility, and authority; doing so will transform how you relate and serve as you lead together.