What is respect? How do leaders earn respect from others? Recent experiences, both good and bad, with several people have given me insight into what respect is. I have identified six respect-building character qualities: openness, integrity, honoring others, credibility, humility, and consistency.
Last week, I posted Part I of this article, which described the first two qualities:
- Openness – the degree to which a leader allows others to get to know him
- Integrity – behaving in the manner a leader says is important
This week, I address the remaining four respect-building character qualities.
Some people call this the “golden rule” – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus said it best, though, and described this as the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Too often people focus on the first part of that statement, “love your neighbor,” and do not carefully consider the second part, “as yourself.” It has become cliché just to “love your neighbor.” We have become numb to its meaning.
The secret to loving others, to honoring others, is to look at the other side of the statement: the “as yourself” part. The natural, human tendency is to seek comfort and honor for our selves. We know just how we like to receive criticism and praise. We know what skills we excel at and desire praise for. We know our proudest accomplishments. Most of all, we simply want to be appreciated as an individual of value.
To honor others, you must connect knowledge of others’ preferences with appreciation for who they are. How does your boss or employee like to get the bad news (or good!)? In what areas do others see themselves as the expert? What are special sources of pride and honor for your teammates? The possibilities are endless. To honor others, combine knowledge of these factors with a deep-seated appreciation for who they are as an individual.
The essence of credibility is the ability to do, or making significant progress toward, what you say you can do. There are two types of credibility failure in leaders. The first is inability to deliver the goods. There are few things more frustrating than a leader who is hired to do a job, but fails to execute. Sometimes the cause is a bad hiring or vetting process. Other times the leader has said, “I am experienced with this work and I have delivered on this in the past.” As time passes, though, all find out the leader cannot deliver on the promises – credibility is lost, along with respect.
Another failure of credibility is leaders who say they live by certain values and then violate them. This is disheartening to followers in a way that cuts to the core of our being. It creates disillusionment and wounded spirits.
On the other hand, leaders who follow through on their commitments and live their values generate tremendous respect. They generate a special level of commitment and devotion among followers that goes beyond respect.
I have seen both types of leaders recently. In my specific experience, the ones without credibility also had low self-awareness – they were not intentionally deceitful. They thought they could deliver the goods and were surprised when they couldn’t. Often, this situation is closely tied to humility, the next respect-building character quality.
One of my favorite books is Andrew Murray’s “Humility.” (I like to joke, “I once read a book on humility and now I am an expert on the subject.”) Murray’s book focuses on Jesus as the ultimate example of humility and challenges us to consider how followers of Jesus should respond to his life by living humbly. I highly recommend Murray’s book; it is quite challenging and convicting.
What does humility look like in leaders? It is closely related to honoring others, but is more rooted in honest self-awareness. Wait! You say, Self-awareness? Don’t you mean OTHER-awareness? Wouldn’t humility entail being other-aware? No, that’s not what I mean. Let me explain by describing people who lack humility.
In my experiences with others who lack humility (people who tend to think highly of themselves and tend to twist situations to their benefit), 100% of the time they are also not self-aware. In fact, if asked to be honest with a close confidant, I would bet these people claim to actually be relatively humble.
So here is my premise: Humility is self-awareness that governs interaction with others. Therefore, to be humble, you must first be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. You must first know your own gifts and shortcomings. You must know your own true qualities as well as those character flaws that could destroy your career or marriage. It is only in this self-knowledge that leaders are able to fully understand how their own nature interacts with others and with current situations. This self-awareness facilitates the ability to honestly and sincerely put others first. It facilitates humility, one of the most difficult respect-building character qualities.
Finally, respected leaders have consistency. The more a leader is consistent in performance, in mental discipline, and in emotional output the more likely they are to be respected. Consistency in “performance” is the person’s reliability over time. Can others depend on a predictably high level of work from this person? Consistency in “mental discipline” refers to the individual’s sharpness, critical thinking skills, and creative problem solving. Is this person regularly “on the ball”? Finally, consistency in “emotional output” refers to how even-keeled this individual’s social interaction is in the face of the highs and lows of daily life.
I know a highly respected leader who, to my knowledge, has never had a problem with consistency. This person has been running his large and growing enterprise for decades and consistently performs at the top as an industry leader. He is also a very sharp person who is never fazed by the most challenging organizational and leadership problems. He has also been a bedrock of emotion, but not unfeeling(!), in the face of difficult relational events. I have never heard a person voice a word of disrespect for this man.
Here again are the six respect-building character qualities:
- Openness – the degree to which a leader allows others to get to know him,
- Integrity – behaving in the manner a leader says is important,
- Honoring others – love your neighbor as yourself,
- Credibility – the ability to do what you say you can do,
- Humility – self-awareness that governs interaction with others, and
- Consistency – regular and predictable performance, mental discipline, and emotional output.
It’s time for each of us to do some self-assessment on these six character qualities. If you have the courage, ask your spouse, a coworker, or a close friend to give you feedback on each area. I know I have a long way to go in more than one of these qualities.
Please share your thoughts about these two articles on respect. Are there other character qualities that should be included? Should something be taken off the list? What ideas do you have for building up these respect-building character qualities?