ORG Blog

Equal and Different-Leaders Can Value Both Using Interest-Based Leadership

Part 2 of 3 in an Interest-Based Leadership series


The interest-based leadership approach is, by far, the most effective approach for reaching outcomes that are both productive and acceptable to all parties concerned.  The process of using an interest-based approach begins with treating others as equals.  As simple and logical as this first step is, think about why this is so difficult...

Every organization is comprised of tens, hundreds or thousands of individuals with different attitudes, perceptions, skills, and experience.  In addition to these basic human differences, organizations create differences called “jobs,” “functions,” or “departments.”  Within each of these there are a variety of “levels,” “positions,” and “titles.”  How can a leader treat others as equals when there are clearly a number of differences?  It actually can be --and has been -- done successfully as illustrated by this example:

An aviation maintenance facility was forced to face the reality that its aircraft “heavy check” overhaul process required twice as much time (and therefore cost) as its competitors’ did.  Others in the industry had chosen to outsource the work.  Management and labor leaders in this organization wanted to solve the problem differently.

They got together in an offsite location to discuss the situation.  As senior management leaders began to discuss the costs of their current process, union leaders were skeptical and distrusting.  After all, union leaders were not accustomed to being included in financial discussions about the business.  In order to have collaborative, productive discussions, leaders on both sides had to set aside past differences and overcome deep-seated distrust.  The leaders who understood that the first step in the process would require treating each other as equals demonstrated their intent by:

  • Letting go of titles, positions, and hierarchy
  • Demonstrating active listening skills
  • Openly stating their intent
  • Focusing on identifying and discussing interests
  • Avoiding pre-determined and historical solutions


After three days of facilitated breakthrough sessions, the group departed energized by a shared understanding of the issue, an understanding of the interests of all parties, and action items based upon creative options for solutions that the group had collaboratively developed

How did this happen?  How do organizations go from having adversarial, distrusting relationships to collaboratively developing solutions?  Well, it does not happen quickly or easily but it starts with treating each other as equals and recognizing there is creativity and energy in difference.  The structured meeting process in this example enabled leaders to come together on an issue of mutual concern, and to share their differing perspectives, knowledge and insights. In doing so, they began to see that, by considering their differences together constructively, they were able to reach an outcome, agreement, and game plan that reflected the best of individual perspectives from both labor and management.  Starting with the interest-based leadership process allowed leaders to solve issues on their own merit while creating and sustaining an environment of mutual respect.

Want to get started?

Strategies for treating others as equals:

  • Identify the things that keep “treating each other as equals” from happening in an organization.  They might be:
    • A history of problematic or unsuccessful  interactions
    • Past adversarial interactions
    • Topics that are ‘un-discussed’
    • An inability or unwillingness to extend trust
  • Increase awareness of conscious and unconscious responses that perpetuate  automatic patterns that discourage the respectful treatment of  others by:
    • Keeping a journal
    • Noting patterns and triggers
    • Being honest about observations
  • Respect and honor the differences in the organization – different perspectives, experiences, opinions, and viewpoints.

What makes treating others as equals challenging in your organization?  Share your thoughts with us!

Guest Blogger Vicki Kelsey is President, VKAL, Inc.  She can be reached at This blog series is based on previously published content in The OD Practitioner and used with permission from Nick Bizony, President, The Lakeland Group.

Topics: Collaboration Labor Management Leadership Sustainable Change