Leadership by Experience

Leaders Create a Culture of Respect

The second brick in the foundation of leadership that’s necessary when leading leaders is respect. The leader must model respect and demand it of their teams.

Respect must go both ways, up as well as down, and most of the burden falls on the leader’s shoulders. Respect is both inherent, and it is earned.  It is earned by the way we do our jobs, the way we treat others, and how we carry ourselves. Just as important, respect for the organization is a necessary component.  Respect is also inherent in each person as a matter of simple human dignity.

Leaders Set the Tone

It is very important for a leader to explicitly outline his or her expectations in this regard. Everyone should expect their co-workers and their leaders to follow the law, that’s a given. Our attitudes about the people we work with should convey that our hearts as well as our heads demonstrate our respect. The leader must also pledge that they will show respect to their team. A person who shows respect to others will create a “bubble of trust” around them. People will want to work with them and for them. Customers will want to do business with them. The more people in an organization that have built their reputations on mutual respect, the bigger that “bubble of trust” grows. When people know they’re respected by their teammates and leaders, they feel safe to perform, to take risks, and to be themselves.

A person who shows respect to others will create a “bubble of trust” around them.

Whenever I took command of a new unit, I made it very clear that we were to respect each other as Airmen and as persons. For us, that meant we used proper military customs and courtesies, we didn’t use foul language, and we respected each others’ dignity whether or not we agreed with our teammates’ choices or beliefs. Each person has a multitude of ways to describe them: sex, race, eye color, religion or no religion, national origin, etc. We are required by law to treat people equally in all things and not to treat someone differently because they are different from us. It’s not necessary for me to agree with everything another person thinks or believes, but it is necessary for me to treat them with the respect they deserve as a fellow human being.

Beyond mere adherence to the law, respect is recognizing that another human being has the same value as I do because they are.

Not Just for the Military

In the private sector, this is no different. Like the public sector, there are institutional policies and public law that require certain personal and institutional behaviors, but respect is not a legal requirement. Respect is much more than that. Beyond mere adherence to the law, respect is recognizing that another human being has the same value as I do because they are, not because of what they do, how much money they make, or what clothes they wear. Now, I can certainly perform rote behaviors and parrot legal scripts when dealing with others, but to truly show respect, that has to come from the heart. Again, I don’t have to condone behavior or agree with beliefs that don’t match my own; but the skilled leader, the effective leader, separates behavior from personhood and can show respect to anyone regardless of differences. This type of respect engenders respect in return.

Over the course of my career, I’ve led and worked with a number of people who were very different from me. Because we lived and worked in an environment where respect was the expected behavior, teams and friendships usually form quickly, even among very dissimilar people. We became friends with people we might never have even met, let alone socialized with, because the climate our leaders created and maintained required that we respect each other. When you start with respect for another person, most times the differences don’t really matter all that much.

Crimes are not Mistakes – Know the Difference

Of course, there are some things in the “just don’t do it” category, for example: sexual harassment, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, racism, etc. These are inherently self-destructive behaviors that leaders cannot tolerate under any circumstances and go well beyond mere “philosophical differences.” In professions like heavy industry, construction, the military, police, or fire service, these sorts of self-destructive behaviors can have life or death consequences. In business, it can end careers and destroy companies.

…there are some things in the “just don’t do it” category, for example: sexual harassment, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, racism, etc. These are inherently self-destructive behaviors that leaders cannot tolerate under any circumstances…

Leaders have to act quickly to prevent someone’s illegal choices from costing someone else their life or livelihood. In industrial settings, the consequences for the “just don’t do it” behaviors are similarly severe. However, not all of us work in a life and death profession. So while leaders in an office or small business may not have to deal with an industrial accident, business and personal consequences can be very severe. Moreover, an incidence of sexual harassment damages the victim and could expose the firm to legal action for not addressing the illegal behavior.

Leaders have to do the hard work of holding to personal, professional, and legal standards. To do otherwise doesn’t merely endanger personal reputation of the offender; it endangers the entire enterprise.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams. It’s available in the Lulu Bookstore and on Amazon, also on Kindle.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s.

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