Leaders Don’t Need Respect

By Robert Kennedy III

We were speaking about what went wrong and somehow we got to the R word.  We were trying to sift through why the tension existed and what could be done about it.  There was frustration, little eye contact, and tons of arm flailing but not much progress was being made.  That’s when she said, “you’ve got to earn my respect.”  Talk about a dagger in the middle of the conversation.  I was doing my best to try to pull the team together but one of the team leaders was telling me that I didn’t have her respect.

LdrsNoRespectThat stung a bit!  But, it’s what happens when you choose leadership…sometimes you get stung!  I chewed on her words for a few moments and then I said, “I disagree.  Respect is given.  Respect is the polite thing to do.  You simply determine whether you will give respect and I don’t really need to do anything.”  Of course, she disagreed.  But, I went on to give a few examples.

#1 – The president of the United States is called Mr. President or Sir wherever he (well, at least currently it’s a he) goes.  We have had some good presidents and some bad presidents.  We have had some GREAT presidents and some not so great presidents.  But, in every case, they were still called, MR. PRESIDENT.  That is respect.

#2 – If you are in an auditorium and there is a speaker at the podium, the people in the audience listen simply because there is a speaker.  They don’t wait to see if he/she earns their ear or not.  They simply listen because he/she is the speaker and at the podium.  Should they choose to talk while the speaker is speaking, this person is deemed to be disrespectful.  Listening when someone speaks is RESPECT.

#3 – If I walk in to a room where you are and I say, “hello,”, you respond in kind.  Do you wait to see if I am deserving of a return hello?  No, you say hello simply out of RESPECT or some might say COURTESY.

But, she did have a point.  While I didn’t need her respect in order to lead, I didn’t have something that might have even been more important…her TRUST.

Leaders are leaders whether by title or by action.  In both cases, they are often respected for that reason alone.  But, respect doesn’t ensure greatness or even agreement.  Respect may allow access to certain privileges but it doesn’t mean that your team will follow along.  Respect might give you their attention but it doesn’t guarantee their action.

Trust is the lever that moves things forward.  If I have trust, then my team, my tribe, my circle will mobilize.  If I have trust, then not only will they listen, but they will also move because they know that I’ve got their back.  If I have trust, then I can make some mistakes openly because they know the mistakes are the results of my best efforts on their behalf.   Some leaders operate based on fear.  But, a leader who includes vulnerability in their tool belt allows for the organic building of trust which is foundational to group action.

Respect is good and should be given but true leaders don’t really “NEED” it nor should they seek it.  Instead, actively and intentionally seek to build TRUST.  Then the respect will be there automatically.