Earning The Respect Of Your Team

“Leaders who win the respect of others are the ones who deliver more than they promise, not the ones who promise more than they can deliver.”
Mark A. Clement, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

More than 50 years ago, Ted Williams was closing out his career with the Boston Red Sox, He was suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck that season. “The thing was so bad,” he later explained, “that I could hardly turn my head to look at the pitcher.”

For the first time in his career, he batted under .300, hitting just .254 with 10 home runs. He was the highest-salaried player in sports, making $125,000. The next year, the Red Sox sent him the same contract.

When he got the contract, Williams sent it back with a note saying that he would not sign it until they gave him a huge pay cut. “I was always treated fairly by the Red Sox when it came to contracts,” Williams said. “Now they were offering me a contract I didn’t deserve. And I only wanted what I deserved.”

Williams cut his own salary by 25%, raised his batting average by 62 points, and closed out a brilliant career by hitting a home run in his final time at bat.

In my mind, Williams displayed tremendous character and inspiring leadership. And over the years, I’ve observed many leaders from the battlefield to the boardroom, and all of them shared certain leadership skills that you can use to win the RESPECT of your team.

1. Set an example.

In tough times, effective leaders take big steps to save their organizations. However, they have to act on a smaller scale as well.

Though Stan Gault had retired as head of Rubbermaid, he came out of retirement to help Goodyear deal with the heavy debt it had incurred while fighting off a hostile takeover. Gault first set aside his very large salary and linked his pay to Goodyear’s stock performance, sending the message that he was personally committed to making the company turn around. Then he sent the same message in a different way. Noticing the numerous lights in his spacious office, he unscrewed many of the bulbs to save money. Reducing expenses, in both payroll and facilities, was necessary to deal with the debt and Gault set an example across the board.

So ask yourself, “Does your leadership example earn the RESPECT of others … or does your leadership example arouse suspicion, instead?”

2. Promote hope.

If a leader is enthusiastic and optimistic, it creates a ripple effect throughout the organization. The team members almost automatically achieve more. And if a leader is cynical and pessimistic, it ripples throughout the entire organization just as quickly and the team members become demoralized.

That’s why General Colin Powell says, “Be a strong advocate for hopeful thinking! I’m talking about a gung-ho attitude that says, ‘We can change things here and make our business (and the world) a better place!”

To do that, when I’m coaching leaders, I tell them to communicate their vision to their team. Share exciting news. Celebrate their victories. Smile. Always look for the bright side of a situation.

So ask yourself, “Do your words and your actions inspire other people to be their very best, which, in turn, causes them to RESPECT your leadership qualities all the more?”

3. Let your heart show.

This story is told about Woodrow Wilson when he was president. Wilson was awakened at 4:00 a.m. by a call from an eager young man who informed him that the commissioner of highways had just died. “I know he’ll be a hard man to replace, Mr. President,” the caller said, “but I thought I would be a good man to take his place.”

“It certainly is all right with me,” answered Wilson, “if it is all right with the undertaker.”

The eager office seeker certainly revealed his heart and his passion for advancement… which can be admirable. But he wasn’t exactly using his head when he woke the President in the middle of the night and circumvented all proper protocol.

Great leaders typically have great minds. They can take in a host of facts, and they can analyze a variety of scenarios. But they must also let their hearts show if they’re going to connect with people.

It’s been one of the secrets of Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, who as the Prime Minister of Israel, has one of the most difficult jobs in the world. In his words, “If I look back at all the decisions that I have made that counted for anything in my own life and in my position as Prime Minister, I have found that it is the heart that makes the best decisions. In addition to logic and the calculation of costs and benefits, there is a computation of the heart, which I think is actually a more trustworthy guide. At a certain point, you feel that something is right and you do it.”

So ask yourself, “Does your heart show? Do your people feel like they know the real you, so they can RESPECT you and your leadership skills …and not just the position you hold?”

4. Encourage growth.

Powell often tells his audiences, “Effective leaders inspire and encourage their team members to learn new skills and grab new responsibilities … Remember, the stronger and smarter your team is, the smarter and stronger you are as a leader.”

But some of you may protest. You may say times are tough, and you can’t afford to keep on training and educating your team. On January 19, 2009, “Fortune Magazine” addressed that issue. They said, “Recessions end! When this lousy stretch is over … will your company be more competitive or less? The most successful companies NEVER stop funding … the continual development of employees. Yet it’s remarkable how many businesses cut training and development in a downturn. The best NEVER do.”

In addition to that, to keep your teammates growing and thriving, encourage cross-training, bring courses on site, and give them relevant books and articles to read. Ask them to report back what they learned. And then when your annual performance reviews roll around, don’t ask “How well did you perform your job?” Ask instead, “How much have you changed?”

So ask yourself, “Do your teammates see you actively supporting their growth … so they can RESPECT the fact that you care about them, the whole person, and not just the job they perform?”

5. Ask questions.

You know the old stereotype about men refusing to ask for directions. We can all chuckle about that, but in the business world, if you don’t stop to ask for directions, you’ll sink — and bring the whole company down with you.

That’s just about what happened when a photographer for a national magazine was assigned to get photographs of a great forest fire. The smoke at the scene hampered him from getting close so he asked the home office to hire him a plane. The arrangements were made and he was told to go to a nearby airport where his plane would be waiting.

When he arrived at the airport, the plane was warming up near the runway. He jumped on with his equipment and yelled, “Let’s go. Let’s go.” and his pilot swung the plane into the air.

“Fly over to the north side,” yelled the photographer, “and make three or four low passes.”

“Why?” asked the pilot. “Because I’m going to take pictures.” cried the photographer. “I’m a photographer and photographers take pictures.”

After a pause, the pilot said, “You mean you’re not the instructor?”

All good leaders ask lots of questions. They don’t presume to know everything. That’s why I like the leadership style of Bill Moore, the CEO of TCMS and one of the great success stories in the Linc Service franchise system. Moore tells his team, “I want to hear the good news fast and the bad news faster.”

If you see a problem, ask questions until you find a solution. If you don’t know how to do something, ask someone on your team. If you want to understand your customer, ask questions!

So ask yourself, “Do you ask enough questions so people truly RESPECT your leadership skills and your quest for knowledge and understanding? Or do they see you pretending to know it all, when in fact, you don’t?”

6. Never be afraid to make people mad.

You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating. It’s more important to be respected than liked. Indeed, when Lou Holtz, the great college football coach, and I were keynoting a large convention, Lou made an amazing declaration. He said, “If you desperately need people to like you, you will never have their respect.”

In other words, as a leader, you will sometimes have to make tough decisions that not everyone will like. You’ll need to prepare yourself for those moments by thinking through WHY you made the decision and HOW it will be the best for your team, your customers, and your company.

I suppose that’s why Dr. James Dobson called his book, “Parenting Isn’t For Cowards.” It takes guts to look your kids in the face, say no, and stick to your no, when your kids are trying to beat you down. It takes guts to let your kids not like you for a while as you hold firm on your decision as to what is best in the long run.

So ask yourself, “Are you able to make tough decisions … even unpopular decisions … because you know it’s the right thing to do … and because you know it will earn the RESPECT of others over time?”

Leadership is not about a title and it is not about a position. Leadership is all about the leadership skills that earn the RESPECT .. and thereby the following … of others. How are you doing in this area of your life?

Action:  Select two of the six leadership skills that earn the RESPECT of others to focus on. Consciously spend some time on those two behaviors every day for the next 30 days.