In a culture of positive influence, the most powerful way to earn respect is by giving respect. That is not just a leadership principle, it’s a human principle that applies to any relationship, but it is especially important in leadership because you are modeling a standard for others to follow.
Respect is one of the easier feelings to reciprocate. We can love people without being loved in return. We can like or dislike people more than they do us. But when we treat people with genuine respect – not fake respect but genuine respect – they are much more likely to treat us with respect. Maybe not immediately, but before long, and the exceptions are rare.
The idea of earning respect by giving respect is a concept you can verbalize to your team as one of the standards of the team culture. Being a member of your team means honoring this standard. It’s one of the core team values. It’s part of your code.
We often think of respect in terms of behavior, but it’s also a mindset. In fact, for some, it’s a total way of thinking. It’s their nature to think respectfully. They have an innate respect for people. They are grateful for what others provide. They are grateful for the good qualities in others. They seek out these good qualities and honor them. They are not blind to the weaknesses of others, and they don’t ignore them. They see the weaknesses, but they also see past them. They see weaknesses in the context of strengths.
They don’t treat others with respect just because of who those others are, but because of who they themselves are. They don’t demand that people earn their respect. They give it because giving respect is their mindset. The person to whom they give respect can choose to accept it or reject it.
People with a mindset for giving respect tend to be respected. When they are in leadership positions, they are respected as leaders and as individuals.
We can behave respectfully but still feel reluctant about it. The true game-changer is when we think respectfully. One of the distinguishing qualities of many of the most highly respected leaders is that they think respectfully about the people they lead. A respectful mindset in a leader also sets the tone for a culture of respect. Employees see the benefit of emulating this quality because it is such an appealing one.