I’ve always struggled with baby talk. (Or ‘Disney Talk’ – as I heard it described as in India last week). The idea of speaking to a toddler in a high pitched warble makes me uncomfortable. I don’t do it myself and I cringe when I hear others do it. I never questioned this until recently when it occurred to me that it’s actually indicative of something deep within my core; that is: I am most comfortable when I interact with people as equals. 

It’s the reason I don’t patronize people and it’s the reason that, to my knowledge, I never play status games at work. In many ways it has been a great strength of my leadership style. But what I have also discovered is that when situations are not equal, I can misjudge them and I blunder.

It might be that people have put me below them. Below makes me belligerent—even explosive. I hugely admire the leaders who can make that one clever comment that elegantly and firmly puts people in their place. When people put me above them I am equally uncomfortable; I tend to overcompensate to show I am not pedestal fodder.

As I get older, I realize I am increasingly vulnerable to the latter. I find people are putting me above them for superior experience, wisdom and success for no other reason than longevity. If I don’t find a way of restoring that sense of equality in which I thrive, I fear I may be misjudging many more situations in the future.