Don’t Choose People to Respect, Choose to Respect People

respect       Wait a minute! What do you mean don’t choose people to respect? Aren’t we all taught that people have to earn your respect and you have to earn respect from other people? Further, as a leader, how am I supposed to respect a person who I think is not doing good work?

Good questions! Earned Respect is important but it’s not without a significant flaw. Plus, there is another, more powerful form of respect that is often overlooked. First, let’s talk about Earned Respect. Earned Respect is the respect and admiration that we give people usually because of their character, actions and/or values. These people might include our parents, leaders, friends, colleagues, or role models. People who overcome great adversity always earn my admiration, as do people of integrity. Research suggests that people we admire and respect are better able to inspire and influence us. We are more likely to go the extra mile and do our best work for respected leaders versus leaders who use power, intimidation, and manipulation to get what they want. These latter types of leaders may enjoy short-term success but their followers are less productive over time and will give just enough to accomplish the task. (I’ve also often found that when people with this type of leadership leave their current position, many problems are uncovered because people were too afraid to speak up or their concerns dismissed.)

Unfortunately, due to this short-term success, leaders who use intimidation and manipulation are often able to fool others (and themselves) that their leadership methods are effective and justified. They may even be promoted which reinforces their use of these poor behaviors. Worse, it can influence others (especially younger leaders) to adopt those same methods. I remember talking to a young woman, just a year out of grad school and working at a large professional services firm. She told me that some of the leadership practices she saw there didn’t fit with her values but she had decided that she needed to adopt these strategies if she was to be able to succeed at the firm…. Heartbreaking….. This was advice from her mentor – another woman….. Doubly heartbreaking.

The flaw in Earned Respect is that it can lead us astray simply because we’re not perfect in who we choose to respect and admire nor are other people perfect. For example, historians suggest that many of Hitler’s followers admired and agreed with his values and actions. Likewise, some Americans in 1965 supported and admired Governor Wallace’s stance on segregation. Sports heroes or movie stars admired for their abilities can also fall from the pedestals we put them on – dare I say Deflategate? (Of course, I believe that George Clooney is immune to all this!!) Everyone can probably come up with a long list of role models who have disappointed them.

So is Earned Respect a waste of time? Absolutely not! Our heroes and role models are important; they inspire us to strive for higher standards and challenge us to do more and be better people. I would simply suggest there is another type of Respect, one that is often overlooked and undervalued, that is more powerful and inspirational than Earned Respect. In fact, I believe it should be a precursor of Earned Respect. I call it Fundamental Respect and I’ll talk more about it next time!

I always appreciate your thoughts and comments! How would you define “Fundamental Respect”?



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