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Opinion: 7 ways to earn respect as a leader

Smart Ways Series

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Leading a team of people is challenging, but earning their respect may be even more difficult.

Most leaders I know must meet their organization’s complex needs, adapt to changes in the marketplace, make certain the employees have a rewarding work environment and meet customers’ needs effectively.

The demands placed on a leader are anything but modest.

Respected leaders have exceptional capabilities along with strong interpersonal skills. Here are seven ways I see smart leaders earning respect from their people.

1. Focus on results and relationships. Both are equally critical to earning the respect of employees. Focusing on results is the easier part for most leaders. While the lack of generating sufficient results may derail some leaders, more often it’s the lack of interpersonal skills that foster positive relationships and trust.

2. Value multigenerational employees. Leadership coach Ed Allen, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, coaches senior leaders in large corporations. Recently, I visited with him for insights on leading multigenerational employees. “While it’s important to understand millennials,” Allen says, “the most important aspect is to value them and their potential to the organization.” The contribution potential of the entire organization is lifted, Allen believes, when senior leaders value employees highly. But it’s not only senior leaders who need to value multigenerational employees; it should come from all leadership and management levels.

3. Listen with purpose. According to the University of Missouri Extension, most of us spend about 75 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication, whether it’s writing, reading, speaking or listening. Listening, however, is how most people spend nearly 50 percent of all available time each day. Since listening is one of the main ways we show respect for other people’s ideas and build trust, it’s a skill that every leader must master.

4. Establish unbreakable values. A leader’s values are essential; for one thing, they inspire employees to leverage individual efforts for the organization’s good. What’s more, they can spur employees to achieve challenging tasks under extreme pressure. With so much attention in the last decade being placed on improving employee engagement and workplace culture, many leaders recognize it’s necessary to create and sustain inviolable values. But creating such values is only the first step toward seeing positive results. Standing on your values is also essential. Without throwing the gauntlet down around unbreakable values, employees may not take your leadership seriously.

5. Execute effectively. Too many company initiatives and programs come and go, with no real change to show for it. Over time, employees become cynical with a leader’s lack of follow-through – especially when they spin out a program-of-the-month to supposedly motivate the troops. While vision and planning are essential, execution is more important.

6. Communicate nonstop. It’s almost impossible to overcommunicate. The company grapevine and rumor mill exists to fill in the gaps where leaders communicate poorly. As George Bernard Shaw noted, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Communication weakness frequently shows up when leaders attempt to implement change. They may fail to provide sufficient explanation for the reasons behind the change, or they may neglect to discuss the potential impact on jobs, compensation or other issues employees consider significant. Ultimately, this can create employee anxiety and increase resistance to change. Smart leaders will double down on their efforts to communicate to employees clearly and sufficiently.

7. Assess your legacy. When it comes to assessing one’s legacy, Allen says, “Someday you will get on that elevator and walk out of the building for the last time; your legacy will be determined by how you led your people.” Two questions are helpful in a self-assessment: What are you doing to invest in people? How would people best describe your leadership? It’s wise to be proactive about creating the legacy you want.

Authentic respect can’t be earned by demanding it from employees. Earning respect requires intentional effort and smart leaders make respect an action, not just a noun.

Consultant and professional speaker Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and He’s also the author of “The Five Rules of Megavalue Selling.” He can be reached at


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