Lowering your level is an effective form of leadership. President Abraham Lincoln once said, “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” This is such a powerful statement.
I have spent my entire adult life coaching youth sports. Whenever I felt it was necessary to connect with a player from a communication standpoint, I would always physically get down on their level to deliver the message. It was a strategy that was proven effective over and over.
So, how does this principal apply to communication in leadership? In this week’s post, we dive into five ways lowering your level to meet your team where they are helps connect the message:
Being a good listener does not come natural to most. In fact, being inattentive seems to come more natural these days. This is also compounded by the increasing distractions available to us and the crazy demands on our time. The art of sitting in front of a person and being one hundred percent present is rare.
The best way to connect with someone on their level is to genuinely listen. It requires limiting distractions and increasing focus. Quality listening requires active participation with non-verbal queues, asking questions for clarification, and being disciplined enough to listen without generating a response. Genuinely listening is a great strategy of lowering your level to connect with a person.
One of my pet peeves is to hear someone overuse the words me, my, mine, and I. It is possessive and screams insecurity. The use of these words can flare up during a crucial conversation. The tough message needs to be delivered, but can quickly be turned into a power trip when these words are used. The use of possessive vocabulary can ratchet up the tension of the conversation.
The use of we, ours, and us can defray tension. The same core message can be delivered, the importance of it can be emphasized, it is just a more effective approach to eliminate possessive language. When we use less possessive forms of vocabulary, it makes the conversation just that, a conversation. You are in it together. It does not turn into a debate where someone wins and someone loses, it produces productive dialogue. Your vocabulary can greatly assist in getting on someone else’s level. Words matter.
Lighten the Weight of Words
In addition to their use, words have weight. The further a leader grows in an organization, the heavier their words get. Someone at an entry level of the organization can say the exact same thing as the leader and it has a completely different impact. Upper-level leader’s words get heavy, it’s the nature of the position. Words can become purely paralyzing due to their weight.
When leaders realize how heavy our words can be, it helps us connect at the team member’s level. Anything we say is going to weigh more than their peers and the people they lead. The heavier the words, the more intense the burden they carry.
If not careful, the pressure of a leader’s words can break someone. Do not use words to tear people down, use them to build them up. In order to build people, you have to start at the same level. A construction crew never starts on the roof while another one is building the foundation, both crews start on the foundation.
I read something one time that said you should never meet with someone behind a desk for two reasons. One, it puts up a physical barrier between you and them. Two, it makes one person feel superior, the other inferior. Both are ineffective strategies in connecting with another Human Being.
It may seem like overthinking it, but I prefer to get out of my seat and go to them. The physical barrier gets removed and puts us on an even playing field. The conversation always seems to connect more and mean more. The people who follow you will feel your intentionality as well. Leaders who are intentional make a greater impact in this world.
In It Together
I try to write this blog from a position of the things I struggle with and need to improve upon as well. If I sat here and told you that I have it all together and I am a perfect leader, I would be lying. That is why I am intentional about sharing my own struggles.
When we share our struggles in leadership with those we lead, it lowers our level to a position for effective communication. In fact, timely vulnerability breaks down barriers and increases understanding. When someone who follows us knows that we have experienced similar challenges in our leadership journey, it makes us relatable and the message is more likely to stick.
The greatest challenge for a leader to effectively communicate is that no amount of it will ever be enough. I really do think that communication could and should remain in any organization’s or individual’s evaluation under the needs improvement column. Why? Because it is impossible to communicate everything, and even if you communicate well, the message is still dependent upon how it is received. How the message is received is an often overlooked part in the process of communication.
By getting on the level of your audience, you improve the chances of connecting the message. I know public communicators that would prefer not to speak from a stage because they feel like they are talking down to the audience, won’t stand behind a podium because it puts up a physical barrier, and when the audience size allows to not use a microphone. All are strategies to place the communicator where they prefer to be, on the level of the audience.
Great leaders connect with their people where they are. Their level.