By Larry Broughton
Leaders struggle with securing, maintaining and exporting one product more than any other: respect. This is due in no small part to our current cultural mindset, which is counter industrious.
Our media declares the “little guy,” the marginalized majority, to be the constant victim of tyrannical bosses, teachers, owners and basically anyone else in a leadership role. The modern American distrusts leadership, at best, and resents leadership, at worst. So, how does a leader actually recruit, retain and lead people who consider themselves victims? The answer is found in the core values of honor and respect. Leaders, not employees, are responsible for setting the standard and the pace of the values.
In setting the standard, leaders must recognize and respect the time, energy and effort of those around them. This requires listening, thinking and approaching people as if they are just that — people. Most bad leadership comes from a soured mindset toward followership. Many in management positions have had enough of trying to be kind, supportive and considerate; eventually, they just want results: productivity, plain and simple. The problem with that mindset is evident: people are not cogs in the machines of a leader’s choosing. They are individuals with strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad, dreams and limitations. They cannot be demoted to the level of a cog — that logic is just as faulty as the aforementioned “little guy syndrome.”
Those in management and leadership positions must look at their followers and realize their own job is to optimize their employees’ potential to succeed, not simply fume as they seem to maximize their ability to fail. Many resistant followers have never shared respect with a leader in their lifetime and are not properly equipped to start any time soon. This is the first challenge of leadership: see “employees” as “team members” and draw the potential out of them. Do this by taking the first step. Establishing a standard of respect will not only enable your followers to fulfill their potential, but it will also cause the majority of them to respond in kind.
Regarding pace, leaders have to acknowledge that the process of gaining, sustaining and expanding respect and converting that into a productive and tenured team member is usually lengthy and arduous. To unwrap a pessimistic employee from their cynical cocoon is no small feat. Again, the antidote is simple, free and readily available: respect. It begins at the top and works its way down, not the other way around.
Leadership requires us to control the flow of respect and to drive it into every hour and corner of our organization. Once it does, it breeds a culture of honor, and anyone who enters it will either rise due to its effects or leave quickly. Many leaders will see this step as futile and counterintuitive. “Employees respect me because I am the boss. If they earn my respect, then so be it.” That mindset may have worked well enough in generations past; however, modern followers do not subscribe to this logic, so it simply won’t work today. Respect them first and farthest; then coach them up or coach them out if they do not meet the standard. By taking the first and farthest step, a good leader will completely eliminate excuses and tolerable failures — followers, will either meet the pace of respect set by the leader or find another placement.
Many view leadership as passionless and visionless. They see managers as the ultimate cogs in an even larger machine. To reverse this mindset, leaders must seek to see the value of every team member and offer honor, respect and understanding even before it’s deserved or earned. Some followers will buck this treatment and run — their presence is undesirable anyway. Some will respond almost instantly with loyalty and trust — these people were most likely conditioned for work by whoever reared them and will make excellent team members. Most will come around slowly but treat their leaders more fairly because they recognize the goodwill the leader has extended them first. This style of leadership does require considerable effort at first; nevertheless, working smarter and accomplishing more is certainly preferable to leading a group of maligned, untrusting misfits to merely adequate performance.
Now, take rapid action and go do something significant today.
Larry Broughton is a former U.S. Army Green Beret, best-selling author, award-winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker and leadership mentor. TheLarryBroughton.com
Photo credit: Westover Photography