Sync to Swim

Remember Who You Work For

When someone asks a leader who they work for, the best answer is “I work for my team.” That’s obviously not a complete answer, but it speaks to a mindset. Leadership is service, and leaders who approach their roles with that mindset are more likely to be successful. It’s not the complete answer, of course, so to that end, let’s spend some time thinking about respect. Leaders must demonstrate respect, require it in the team, and be able to move our organizations forward in a rapidly changing world.

Everyone Deserves Respect

To begin with, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect simply because they are a human being. If you don’t start there, then every relationship becomes about power. It doesn’t matter what rank or position somebody has, how much money they make, their race, religion, national origin, whatever — none of that matters regarding how we should treat one another. Every human deserves respect based on their innate human dignity. As leaders, we have to establish that culture and require that from our teams. We also must model the behavior we want others to follow.

Leaders Model Respect

Leaders have to be able to put in the time and the effort to walk the walk right along with the people they are leading. You can’t expect people to do things that you’re not willing to do yourself. If you expect your teammates to work long hours on a project, then you better be right there with them. Sometimes that means we have to share the discomfort of our team and of our teammates. Leaders have to model the behavior they expect, and not be afraid to “get down in the trenches” with their teams. People will respect you for sharing in their hardship. They also respect you for working hard, being a person of integrity, and living up to the values you establish.

No one respects a leader who takes privileges without putting in the work — that corner office and parking spot aren’t because one has been granted their position by Divine Right. On the contrary, leaders earn perks to enable them to serve more effectively. That corner office is so you can entertain clients and business partners, as well as coach the team members in private. That parking spot is so you can spend more time clearing obstacles for your team rather than searching for a parking spot. Leadership is first a service role.

Moving Forward in a Rapidly Changing World

I’m a fan of the 2005 sci-fi series “Battlestar Galactica.” I think it’s probably some of the best drama ever made for TV, and like many dramas, there are leadership lessons to mine from the episodes. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, the story takes place supposedly hundreds of thousands of years in the past, when the human race is all but wiped out by the Cylons. A remnant of survivors set off across the stars in a convoy of spaceships led by the sole surviving warship to go find the mythical planet of Earth as a new home. There’s a scene in the first episode where the Colonial President Laura Rosalyn (Mary McDowell) looks at Galactica’s Commander Adama. Adama is determined to get the Galactica into the fight. Rosalyn straightens her suit and says, “I don’t know why I’m the one that has to keep telling you this, but the war’s over, we lost.”

We’re going through some radical changes in our society and the business environment. A pandemic, societal shifts in attitudes about race and justice, and new ways of working and how we conduct business. We can either continue to fight the change, to get metaphorically “back in the fight,” or we can go find Earth.

What we have to do is go find Earth. We have to live through the change, we have to lead the change we can lead, and we have to fight the good fight for what we believe, but when the time comes, we have to fall in with the fleet and find Earth. Metaphorically “finding Earth” doesn’t mean abandoning our principles or compromising our conscience — far from it. It does mean we need to recognize change when we see it and find the opportunities for ourselves and our organizations rather than finding a “hill to die on.”

In the end, we really need to remember who we work for: our teammates first and, of course, our organizations as well.

Orgininally posted at the Engineering Management Institute blog


Mickey is an expert in leadership and organizational change. 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. Mickey now works with clients around the country to improve performance and help organizational transformation. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC. Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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