Respect is the Currency of Great Leadership. Here are 5 Ways to Earn It and 1 Rule to Remember!

February 9, 2018 • 6 minute read • by Saeed


“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.”

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

High respect = High performance.

But you have to earn my respect. If I don’t respect you, why should I follow you?

The principle is simple. If people respect you, they will give their 100% to their work. But not 100% of the people will respect you.

That’s because of the 20:60:20 rule.

The rule says that 20% of your highest performing and most dedicated team members respect you already. Then, you have a reasonably high level of respect with your solid citizens (the middle 60%) that are good but not great. As for the bottom 20%, well, no matter how much you try, not everyone will love you. Trying to win the respect of your least productive people is, unfortunately, not an efficient use of time and effort, particularly in today’s time starved business environments.

Leadership is not a popularity contest. Leaders who strive to be liked absent respect, fail as often as authoritative rulers. Respect is earned not given. And if you buy the above arguments, namely that respect is the currency of leadership and that leaders need to at least ensure they have the respect of the 20+60%, then another key question emerges: How can leaders best earn the respect of their teams?

While the answer differs according to context, I have generally observed that leadership respect is a combination of five important factors:

1.      Respect is about listening:

Lean in, share acknowledgment and paraphrase what you hear them say. When you actively listen, you are not thinking about what you will say next. Be with them in the moment. This means that when employees talk with you, show interest and enthusiasm for their thoughts. Leaders who only like the sound of their own voice, never gain the benefit of the many voices around them. No matter how good you are, after a while, people will stop listening if you are not listening to them. Respect is a reciprocal act of listening and communication. By being open to input from peers, colleagues, and subordinates, you broaden your sources of information. By helping others be open to input from each others, you expand possibilities and opportunities to accelerate progress. This is how listening makes you a better leader.

2.      Respect is about accountability:

Successful organizational management necessitates accountability. There is no way around it. In practice, respect must form the foundation of accountability. Accountability is being responsible for our actions at all levels. It is about owning, correcting, and learning from our actions. It is about being transparent. It is also about being aware of the perceptions we create and taking responsibility for our emotional footprint at work (emotional intelligence). When leaders take personal accountability, they are willing to answer for the outcomes of their choices, their behaviors, and their actions in all situations in which they are involved. Accountable leaders are fixers, not blamers.

3.      Respect is about sharing success:

It shouldn’t seem hard. Give credit to others for their success; take responsibility for your own failures; and learn from both. If you are the type of leader who takes the credit for the work of your team members, you are no kind of leader at all. Good leaders share the credit with their teams when things go right and take the blame when things go wrong. Being a blame thrower spreads insecurity and decreases the odds of your employees taking ownership. Sharing credit builds investment in your enterprise by your employees and allows it to flourish.

4.      Respect is about consistency:

Are you constantly sending mixed message? Are you the manager who says she wants ideas from her staff and then proceeds to put down every idea brought to her? Without respect, it’s just harder for you to get shit done. If a leader develops a reputation for being inconsistent in either their words or actions, employees will eventually lose confidence in their ability to lead effectively. Consistency is not a concept; it’s a personal discipline. If you consistently demonstrate your commitment to a desired goal and are willing to invest the necessary time and effort to achieve that goal, people will also notice that and be inspired by your example.

5.      Respect is about walking the talk:

Lead by example. It’s the oldest leadership lesson in the book. Being a role model is about being value driven and being value driven earns respect. Child development specialist and author Dr. Robyn Silverman suggests that healthy self-confidence manifests as pride in who you are and what you’ve learned throughout your life. Show courage when faced with difficult decisions. Demonstrate trust (the cornerstone of all relationships) towards others and take actions to earn their trust. Demonstrate ongoing commitment to excellence. Do everything to the best of your ability; always.

As leaders, we must acknowledge the role we play as exemplars. People are savvy. If you don’t walk the talk, they’ll notice. Earn respect through actions and strong work ethic. To be a trusted leader who earns the respect of others, you must honor your words with actions and care for others beyond yourself (servant leadership). This helps build respect and trust within teams, between peers and colleagues, and ultimately promotes a sense of fairness that is essential to an engaged workforce. Walking the talk is the mark of a true leader and is exactly why leadership is so tough and exactly why there are so few real leaders. When you let promised work go undone, you lose respect and set a bad example. Effective leaders do not avoid responsibility, they do not procrastinate, and they do not under or over commit. If unsure about whether they can commit, they say no to the task and yes to the person asking for the commitment. In this way, leaders provide their own insurance that they won’t let promised work go undone.

 A Final Word…

The organization as collective entity achieves great results not only because of strong sales, growth, operational efficiency and competitive position, but also because of the positive workforce culture and strong values of respect and accountability. This concept applies to everyone in the organization but especially to the leadership who should be held accountable for their actions. Exercising complete respect consistently as a leader enables environments that bring out everyone’s best performance. It is essential for creating economic as well as social value. Leadership is not about being right all the time. It is not about having all the answers. It is rather about acknowledging when you don’t have all the answers. It is about the near-wins, not the wins. It is in the striving and the reaching, the journey, the promise of getting there, and the perpetual self-refinement.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

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Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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