Over the last few months I have had some rather impactful experiences with others – some very good and others very bad. These experiences have stuck in my heart and mind. I have thought and prayed a lot about them. The common theme has been the creation or loss of respect. I’m not talking about whether I like these people. We tend to like those we respect, but respect is actually distinct from affection.
Is respect important? Is it important that followers respect their leaders? Do leaders need to develop their “respectability”? Intuitively, we know the answer is yes – it is important for followers to respect their leaders. We’ve all had that very uncomfortable work situation in which we did not respect one or more of our leaders. The palpable tension and lack of trust makes it difficult to perform as an exemplary employee. On the other hand, the presence of respect facilitates an atmosphere of trust and professionalism that encourages people to collaborate on very difficult issues. That is the kind of working environment we all desire!
So what is respect? To answer that question, I’ve analyzed my recent experiences with others. I have considered what was present in the relationships that developed respect and what was missing from the others where respect was lost. I came up with a list of six character qualities. The person possessing these qualities is more likely to be respected by others: openness, integrity, honoring others, credibility, humility, and consistency. I am going to write about this list in two parts. I will address openness and integrity today and the other four in my next article.
Openness was the last item I added to my list, but I place it first with a purpose. Openness is the degree to which a leader allows others to get to know him. Leaders are open when they allow others to see into their personal lives just a bit: some family details, personal preferences, and non-work experiences such as leisure activities. The challenge for leaders is to not to reveal too much or be too familiar. Leaders need to be friendly with followers, but there are risks in becoming friends with followers. We tend not to respect leaders who also become “one of the guys.”
I placed openness first on my list of respect-building qualities, because followers must be able to know the person they are following, not just the leader. Is it possible to respect someone whom you do not really know? Yes. In fact, I have said on several occasions that, as a very conservative person, there are liberal political and business leaders whom I respect – people I do not know personally. I respect them because they possess the other five respect-building character qualities. Not knowing them, though, I have reservations. I hold back just a bit. For followers and leaders working together on a daily basis, you cannot afford this holding back. Openness is vital to building respect.
I present the remaining five qualities in no particular order.
We all know what integrity is. You need to walk the talk! People who behave in the manner that they say is important have integrity. One test of integrity is whether people are the same in public and private life. When President Clinton got himself in trouble with Monica Lewinsky he demonstrated a lack of integrity. People claimed it didn’t matter because that was a private affair (pun intended). That’s garbage. Integrity is a reflection of the whole person. You cannot possess integrity in one part of your life and not in another! That is a lack of integrity by definition.
In my own recent experiences, I have watched leaders stick to their principles at risk of personal loss. The amazing thing is that, for leaders with integrity, this is not a difficult decision. It is sometimes a hard experience, but the choice to maintain integrity is not. I respect these individuals. In other cases, I have seen leaders treat others in a manner that violates principles they taught. I have seen so-called leaders who touted the importance of grace and love and respect, tear down and ridicule others. When challenged on the situation, they offered explanations and caveats. Equivocating and situationalizing is not integrity. These individuals undermined the respect I had for them.
Next week, I will write about the remaining four qualities: honoring others, credibility, humility, and consistency.
In the meantime, I would very much like to know your thoughts on these character qualities and any others you feel are important for respect. Think about those whom you respect. WHY do you respect them? What is in their character that builds your respect for them?