A critical lesson I’ve learned in life is the value of respect. This may seem “old school,” but if you treat people respectfully—especially in business—you will earn their respect in return. And you likely will get the results you want.
Respect is a woefully misunderstood term. Here’s what it is not:
Respect is not a response you demand from others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say—whether to an underling, a boss, or a peer—“I insist you give me more respect,” or some version thereof. While it’s important to point out when someone is treating you disrespectfully, it does not follow that respect can be gained upon command. Respect is something you earn. Period.
Respect is not intimidation. Many people in the world today—from gang leaders to CEOs— mistakenly believe respect boils down to projecting a “don’t mess with me” persona. To reinforce this image, they do things like bark orders, treat others heartlessly, or make unilateral decisions. But being a jerk people are afraid of is not the same as being respected.
Respect isn’t an entitlement linked to a particular job title. Just because you’re regional manager or have earned five Ph.D.s does not mean your employees or peers will automatically respect you.
Respect is the esteem that flows to you naturally when you behave with honesty, integrity, compassion, and a devotion to something bigger than yourself.
So how do you earn respect in business? Here are six ways:
1. Be humble. Don’t expect anyone to care about where you went to college or what awards you’ve won. Braggarts are boring and turn people off. Avoid self-promotion and publicity stunts. They don’t work, and they don’t engender respect. If you have skills, put them into action; don’t talk about them. Show some grit, grace, and gratitude toward your job and co-workers, and respect will follow.
2. Lead by example. Model the qualities you expect to see in the people you lead and work with. If you want your workers and peers to be honest, be truthful and transparent in all your business dealings. If you want your employees to show dedication to a project, don’t take long lunches or quit early. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a sure ticket to disrespect.
3. Help people succeed and advance. Nothing earns respect more than a genuine and unselfish concern for your team members. Give your staff opportunities for development and advancement in-house. Build future leaders at every level of the organization and develop the next generation of leaders from within.
4. Be a teacher or mentor. People always have other opportunities, regardless of the economy, and will leave your business unless they see an investment is being made in their future. Don’t hoard your knowledge; be generous with it and show a fearless desire to help those around you grow.
5. Reward success! Thank those who do a good job by giving them a personal handwritten note, a lunch out, or a gift card. Implement an employee reward program. And, of course, never, ever, ever—did I mention ever?—take credit for someone else’s work. People want to be acknowledged for a job well done, and that recognition means so much more when it’s not “one size fits all” but tailored to who they are as individuals.
6. Listen. When another person is speaking, set your inner agenda aside and give your full attention to that person. True listening is the single greatest way of showing respect for another human being. And ultimately, it is only those who are capable of giving respect who earn respect.
Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D. (Michigan), former chief of public affairs for Blue Shield of CA, and a retired captain in the Naval Reserve, has published five books about leadership since 2012. His latest book, “Leading with Grit, Grace and Gratitude: Timeless Lessons for Life,” was published in July 2020. For more information, visit: https://www.ritcheichleadership.com.