Respect has been the subject of many coaching conversations recently. In fact, questions like “Do those you lead need to respect you?”, “Do you need to respect those you lead?”, “Which comes first?”, “Which one does a leader need or need to lead with when managing employees?” come up with regularity. These questions and more are the focus of this Monday Moment.
There is an old saying many Human Resource leaders share when mediating conflict among managers and employees. It goes something like this: “You don’t have to like those you work with, but you do have to respect them.” You’ve heard it, I’m sure, but is it just me who thinks that’s hard to do? How do you respect someone you don’t even like, particularly when they are the focus of an HR conversation or conflict? Well, for starters you shift your focus onto something about him or her that you CAN or DO respect. Second, you stop expecting the behavior of your employee (or your boss’s behavior) to fulfill every facet of your definition of respect. In other words, perhaps as the old adage goes, you stop believing you have to like the person as someone with whom you would otherwise be friends, in order to be able to respect them, or their title, or their opinion, or their insight, or their actions.
In the workplace, it’s a given that leaders, managers, and bosses must respect their employees, if they wish for those employees to willingly follow. It’s a given that employees and team members must respect their leader, if there is to be a reasonable expectation of that leader doing anything other than the bare minimum for the employee. Anything beyond the bare minimum would include meaningful recognition, employee development, or special consideration of projects assigned, for example, that might lead to future growth, visibility or the employee’s desired direction. This “given”, however, does set up a complex system in that leaders have a title that in some ways commands respect. Employees do not. Some leaders lean on their title as a way of demanding respect and as a result, somewhat dehumanize the relationship facilitated by their role. These efforts are a recipe for diminished credibility and a host of other workplace problems that usually follow. So, what may be a given is not ALL that is given or assumed to be commonplace: a leader’s title is not the real reason employees will respect a person in a leadership role. It may be the reason they’ll show respect, but if you really want employees to respect your direction, decisions, and desires, different actions may be needed.
Many in a leadership role will read this advice and say “okay, so what do I do about respect?” What you do is look at leadership and the role of leader or boss, as a people centric position. If a boss wants to earn respect, he or she must give respect. If a manager wants to be respected, he or she must show respect of others and others’ input. How would you want others to treat you? What do you need from those you lead? What do they need from you? This boils down to knowing those you lead and using emotional intelligence principles when leading. So, what do you do? Stop, and look at the world through an employee’s eyes? Do they value stability? Provide them that or explain why you can’t. Do they value communication? Give them more or share more details. Do they value a strong leadership style? Give them the direction they crave. Do they wish for more independence? Provide the autonomy they wish you shared? And then be patient. If you have spent weeks, months or years, leaning on a title or position to earn you respect and get your message heard, its likely trust and credibility have suffered. Earning both of those back, much like earning respect is a process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and each and every employee action or complaint or demonstration of resistance, is an indication that you’ve got a little further to go before you get to the finish line.
Respect is, much like people, much like the concept of love, much like the application of trust or authenticity, a multi-faceted quality. It is not something that is commanded long term and usually entails a matching of actions and words. Respect is not something that lasts past day one if you fail to remember its people you’re leading instead of a herd of non-thinking human capital assets. People respond to what they are given or what is held back and if its respect you feel you lack, look first at how much you’re giving back to those you lead. Respect is a concept that must both lead and follow.
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