Respect is something that is earned. It doesn’t just happen because you are in a leadership position. If your subordinates respect you simply because you can fire them, you are a very poor leader.
You earn respect in different ways. The biggest way to earn people’s respect is to do what you say you are going to do. I’ve seen many moderately skilled leaders lose a tremendous amount of respect simply because they didn’t follow through on what they said they would do.
The Honest Leader
I once worked at an organization where the CEO was trying to increase the skill level of his management staff. Many of the people in management had a rudimentary education when they started at the organization and were doing very little to expand their skills and knowledge.
The CEO told all the managers that he wanted them to be continually pursuing their education and that he expected every manager to take at least two college classes each year at a minimum. He made it clear that year-end raises would be tied to meeting this goal.
No one heard any more about this requirement. I took several classes toward a second masters degree that I was planning on taking anyway, so I was prepared to document my educational efforts for the year. In December, my manager (a vice president) stopped me in the parking lot and told me that they had decided to give me a 2% raise.
I was kind of surprised because it had been made clear that we would only be getting a raise if we had documented our educational efforts for the year. Assuming that I must have missed the instructions on where to document this, I wrote up a summary and sent it to my manager stating that I wanted my raise to be based on the educational achievement as we had been informed would be the case.
Basically, the reply I got back made it clear that year-end raises were in no way impacted by our meeting the educational goal. Later, when talking with some of the other employees who had been there much longer than I, it became clear that the educational goal was treated almost as a joke. They had been around enough to know that, like many other goals and policies before, it was just a passing fad that wouldn’t ever actually be implemented.
This type of behavior is one of the easiest ways to damage your credibility and respect as a leader. If you have to change your mind for some reason, you should make it clear that you are changing your mind. Think twice before ordering something if you are not completely sure you will follow through.
The Competent Leader
Another way to cultivate respect is by being really good at what you are managing. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert in everything every one of your subordinates does, but if your conversation makes it clear that you haven’t even spent the effort to understand their job, it will be very difficult for them to respect your expertise.
Your direct reports are going to run into roadblocks and difficulties in their work. While you don’t need to help them work through every single issue, being able to understand the problem and point to solutions will go a long way in building respect. This isn’t something you can fake. If you don’t understand their job, you will probably lose more respect than you gain by trying to help.
The Leader Who Cares
A third practice that will help you gain respect is to take a genuine interest in your employee’s success. If they feel like you are trying to help them achieve success, not just in their current job, but over their whole career, they will respect that you care beyond just the fact that they work for you.
Respect isn’t something that happens automatically and it is easier to lose than to gain. These three practices (following through, being an expert, and caring about your employee’s success) will go a long way toward helping you build respect.