The Two-Way Street of Leadership and Respect

by  Hollis Thomases  |  Leadership Development
The Two-Way Street of Leadership and Respect

Respect. It’s such a simple word that carries so much power. It commands: “Respect commands itself and it can neither be given nor withheld when it is due.” (Eldridge Cleaver). It empowers: “We confide in our strength, without boasting of it; we respect that of others, without fearing it.” (Thomas Jefferson) It elevates: “We must build a new world, a far better world – one in which the eternal dignity of man is respected.” (Harry S. Truman) It validates: “Probably no greater honor can come to any man than the respect of his colleagues” (Cary Grant). And yet, where has respect gone today, particularly when it comes to those in or seeking positions of leadership?

To this question, let me direct you to some other worthy quotes: “Men are respectable only as they respect” (Ralph Waldo Emerson); “Respect yourself if you would have others respect you” (Baltasar Gracián); and, “If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are” (John W. Gardner). Isn’t this last quote the whole point of leadership?

Last month I explored a topic – the overuse of apologizing – in my “Shame On Our Apology Economy” post which I feel is related to the topic of respect and leadership. Regardless of someone’s “leadership” position, I find it hard to respect them if their rhetoric is either a series of apologies or if they’re apologizing for something that’s really, truly egregious.

Valued More Than Respect?

When it comes to respect, some people feel that it must be earned while others feel it should be a given, an attribute to be lost based on behavior and attitude. I suppose I fall into the latter camp:  I try to give people – all people – the benefit of the doubt and treat them as if they’re deserving and worthy of my respect. I’m in no way perfect, but I do try to adhere to a Golden Rule philosophy. Or, to invoke another relevant quote, “Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners” (Laurence Sterne).

Many of today’s leaders or heir apparent leaders seem to have lost their way, though, when it comes to respect. Whereas respect used to be a pinnacle, a cornerstone of importance, now it’s only lip service. What’s more valued? Let’s create a shortlist:

  • Power
  • Money
  • Fear
  • Appearance
  • Ego

Perhaps any or some these appeal to the individual cultivating them, but what do they foster in the individuals they seek to lead? Perhaps the loyalty and commitment of a few with similar value sets, but most of these drivers backfire eventually, especially if followers benefit from little to none of the same. Nor can a “leader” maintain control or sustain an entity if those they’re leading can find what they require elsewhere, particularly at a place with a leader who truly respects them and their contributions. Pity the leader who tries to govern a body of people who disrespect him or her.

Human beings must feel self-respect for themselves, too. It’s just part of the human condition. People who do not feel self-respect cannot sustain that situation in perpetuity. They will feel the need to flee, avoid, or hide the more they feel dismissed for their own self-worth. People who “check out,” even if they don’t physically flee, are as minimally productive as possible. And how is a “leader” truly leading when he or she engenders little from the organization’s people than the very minimum they can give?

In other words, when it comes to leadership, respect really is a two-way street. To be an effective leader, you need to give respect to be respected, and from my vantage point, the leader should set the example every single day.

When it comes to enabling change, respect is an important topic. Here on Lead Change Group, others have also written about the topic of respect and leadership. Please read more here.

What is the most powerful demonstration respect and leadership you have seen? Tell me about it in the comments!
Photo Credit: Annika09/123rf

About The Author

Articles By hollis-thomases
Hollis Thomases is founder of ReinventionWorks, a centralized platform to empower people and businesses to take control of their next future through tools, education, support, and marketplace. Reinvention is a Choice™. Connect with Hollis on Twitter @hollisthomases or LinkedIn.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mike Henry Sr.  |  26 Oct 2016  |  Reply

Hollis, thanks for another challenging post. Genuine respect seems to be in shorter and shorter supply these days as many of us seem to focus on whether or not we are receiving it when we might focus on how much we give. Respect could (and ideally would) be in great supply because only I can limit the amount of respect for others that I produce.

Thanks for a great reminder. I appreciate the post. Mike…

Hollis Thomases  |  26 Oct 2016  |  Reply

And thank YOU, Mike, for weighing in and pushing me on. I like your last sentence: “…because only I can limit the amount of respect for others that I produce.” This is so true and imagining a world of limitless respect really changes one’s outlook, even if only for that moment of suspended reality. (I think I might have even heard a little John Lennon playing in the background for that moment) ;-)

The Recruitment Network  |  27 Oct 2016  |  Reply

Respect is a cornerstone of our Leadership training and something we can’t stress enough to our future leaders, an excellent post Hollis, we’ve shared this around our social channels because it deserves to be seen by many!

Hollis Thomases  |  31 Oct 2016  |  Reply

Thank you very much. As I write this thank you, I’m actually realizing that I feel it’s important to say thank you as much as it’s important to be respectful. Both are part of the same standard, and perhaps we are also missing earnest “thank yous” in today’s world — especially among leaders — too? Would you agree??

David McCuistion  |  30 Oct 2016  |  Reply

Hollis, great article on a much needed subject. To many people align respect with “like” as in, if I don’t like you, I can’t respect you. Wrong in all respects.

I’m not sure about the most powerful, but I will say one of the most powerful is listening intently and respectfully, quieting that voice within that wants to give a supposed solution to a problem that may not exist.

Listening intently and responding with empathy and understanding builds trust and enhances respect with power, empowering others because of a leaders demonstrated respect by listening with empathy.

Keep the Quest Alive! Respect builds trust, which builds respect.

Hollis Thomases  |  31 Oct 2016  |  Reply

Thank you, David. I like all your points. Your first one reminded me of a personal post I wrote a few years back in honor of a dear friend I had just lost (it’s been 3 years now — I can’t believe it). It’s called “The Difference About Differences,” and if you care to read it, it’s on Medium: https://medium.com/this-happened-to-me/the-difference-about-differences-3a1c1665c9e6#.pto78dgm5.

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