Executive Coaching Articles

Feeling Equal to Someone Senior to You

Often, when you interact with someone who is your senior, you feel less than equal to them. You think they know more and should receive deferential treatment due to their higher level position in the company. This type of behavior surrenders too much power to the senior person, especially when it’s not necessary in your relationship.

This is the mind-set you exhibit when you feel inferior to someone senior:

  • I don’t know as much as you do, so I’ll maintain a low profile.
  • I have an over-compensating desire to please and give my superiors what they want.
  • I am afraid to share my ideas because they will be rejected or looked down upon.
  • I feel threatened and intimidated by your presence.
  • I don’t want to disagree or say something that might be seen as “not being a team player.”
  • I lack confidence in my abilities and am afraid I’ll mess up.
  • I give my power to you so what you say, do and want is unchallenged.
  • I provide too much information to prove to you that I know a lot about the subject.

This is the mind-set you exhibit when you feel equal to someone senior:

  • I feel on equal ground and that we both have something to contribute to the relationship.
  • I don’t give my power away, but use it as an asset.
  • I have great ideas that may be different than yours and we are all working together to reach a solution.
  • I am curious and open to our relationship.
  • I am willing and wanting to bring my thoughts and ideas to the conversation.
  • I am open to listening to and considering the other person’s perspective.
  • I am willing to disagree and say something that might be contrary.
  • I feel confident of my abilities and want to share them.


Just because someone senior has more influence, authority and power, doesn’t mean you should act differently around them. Almost all senior executives prefer to have someone who feels they are on equal ground because these types of people won’t be afraid to speak the truth or voice opinions that might be seen as contrary to popular ideas. Senior managers trust people who provide valuable intelligence or insight. They won’t let job titles or rank get in the way of making good decisions.

When you feel inferior to someone who is senior, you create the perception that you don’t belong at the next level. If leaders don’t see you as an equal, they question why you should be on the same playing field as them. This directly impacts your ability to advance in the company.

In the movie Hoosiers, a small town basketball team, who is used to playing in front of small home-town crowds, makes it to the state finals. They will be playing in front of 20,000 people, against a much bigger school with bigger players and greater talent. The first thing the coach of the Hoosiers team does is take them to the huge arena where the state finals will be played. He asks his players to pull up a chair and measure the height of the hoop. “How tall is it?” he asks. They say ten feet. The coach asks them how tall is the basketball hoop in their tiny home gym. They reply, 10 feet. There is no difference to playing on the court at home and playing on the court in front of 20,000 people. There is no difference between someone senior than you, except what you make them to be.

You have skills and talents that the senior people don’t have and you need to see yourself as an equal. You have a point of view and something to say. Come up with all the things you are good at and what you do better than others. Embrace these so you can express your confidence and not give it away to people in position of power.