Treat others the way you would like them to treat you. We all know this as the Golden Rule, a moral code that has stood the test of time and spans multiple cultures and religions. Confucius taught to “never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” Jesus instructed to “do to others what you would want them to do to you.” And in Homer’s Odyssey, one character states, “I will be as careful for you as I should be for myself in the same need.” And I, personally, have used it to teach or correct my kids numerous times. In one form or another, this guiding principle has impacted many.
But giving respect is more than a guiding principle when it comes to leadership. It’s an essential component. Yet I have seen far too many men and women through the years that have abused their position of authority by acting like they are above everyone else. There is nothing more ineffective than a leader who treats others as beneath them. Albert Einstein once said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” What a powerful perspective! What many leaders miss is that respect is not something that is given through position, but rather something that is earned. Many of the qualities I have discussed in this effective leadership series contribute to this earning of respect, but here I want to focus on the importance of giving respect in being respected as a leader.
Respect is a two-way street, if you want to get it, you’ve got to give it. –R.G. Risch
Practically, what does it look like to give respect? Here are a few ideas to consider as you evaluate your own leadership style and your effectiveness in giving respect.
• Be mindful of how you present yourself to others. Laurence Sterne said that “respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.” How are your manners? Are you polite or demanding? What’s your tone of voice? What about your body language? You may have the best of intentions, but it doesn’t matter if you present yourself in a condescending manner. Since self-evaluation is difficult, ask those around you for an honest assessment. But check your ego at the door, because you may not like what you hear!
• Be approachable. This bleeds a little bit into how you present yourself, but it also has a lot to do with your response to those you lead when they bring ideas or concerns to you. Do you shrug them off? Do you give them lip service? Or do you really care what they are saying? “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” (Brian Tracy) Ask yourself what kind of leader you would follow voluntarily.
• Be humble. I have to remind myself all the time that this isn’t the “Kevin show”. In leading a project at work, I have to remember that there are a host of individuals that have loads of experience and great ideas that need to be heard. Even though I’ve been given the position of leader, I must continually earn that position with each interaction by seeking their thoughts and acknowledging that my ideas are not the only ones. It communicates to my team that they matter to me, and it makes us stronger as a unit too.
Last year, my brothers and I received an email from our dad’s former administrative assistant. She was writing to let us know how much he will be missed from that project and to communicate what an outstanding leader he is. One particular thing she included stuck out to me. She said that when dad would encounter someone, he would look them in the eye, greet them by name, and shake their hand. Doesn’t sound like a huge thing, right? But she described the impact that left on everyone, from top level management to middle and lower level staff, was tremendous. Because it communicated that dad respected whomever he crossed paths with. Einstein would be proud.