9 signs you’re a leader who earns respect, not demands it

Part and parcel of being a good leader is having the respect of your team.

When people respect you, they’re more likely to work harder for you and follow your lead.

They’re also more likely to like you on a personal level.

True, genuine respect is something we have to earn, not demand.

And there’s a big difference in how you earn respect vs how you demand respect.

There’s an even bigger difference in how people will respond to you as a leader if you’ve earned their respect, rather than demanded it.

If you’re looking for ways to assess your leadership skills, here are 9 signs you’re a leader who earns respect, rather than demands it.

1) You don’t force it

While everyone wants a leader who tries, nobody wants a leader who tries too hard.

Forcing respect can include telling people you are in charge, that you are the boss, that you deserve respect, etc., etc., etc.

Or just going way over the top in getting people to like you and treat you like the leader you are.

In contrast, better leaders let it come naturally.

They don’t force anybody’s hand or go way overboard to gain someone’s respect.

Instead, they let time do its thing and gradually earn the respect of their team in the days, weeks, months, and even years that follow.

2) You don’t “test” people (and if you do, you do it in the right way)

Provided you’ve got a good team of smart workers, they’ll probably know if you’re trying to test them.

While this can be an effective way to weed out who’s good in your team and who isn’t, if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right.

I always remember when I got a new job writing the staff newsletters.

After my first newsletter went out, my new boss invited me to present on one of the topics at the director’s meeting.

I knew it was a test of whether or not I knew what I was talking about. But I had no problem obliging and showing off my skills.

After all, it was a respectful request and I made a note to do something similar when I became a boss.

Whereas at another job, a new boss asked me to make everyone coffee in his first week.

He’d asked several colleagues to do the same before me, so I knew it was a test of my boundaries to see whether I would become the “coffee girl”.

In both situations, I was being tested, but I only had respect for one of those managers.

If you don’t test your staff in the right way, they won’t feel respected.

And while you may be “showing them who’s boss” by asking, you probably won’t earn their respect in return.

3) You give it time

Sure, we’d all love to be respected by everyone from the moment we enter a leadership role.

However, that doesn’t always happen. There will always be someone unhappy with the change or who prefers the old manager.

But a good leader knows that being respected takes time.

It doesn’t happen instantly for many people, no matter how much you want it.

So instead of demanding respect immediately, you wait.

You give people time to see your value and trust you as their respected leader.

4) You don’t make threats

In the modern world of work, people want to feel valued, respected, and positively motivated.

They don’t want to feel threatened, replaceable, or stressed out.

Handing out threats like, “If you don’t do this, you’re fired” or “Vacation days are canceled unless…“.

Sure, they may do the job and “respect” your orders. But they won’t necessarily respect you for threatening them.

Offering incentives can be a great way to motivate your team.

But if you want to earn respect (rather than demand it), make sure the motivators are positive, not negative.

Like if X, Y, and Z get over the line in time, they get to leave early or you’ll order pizza for lunch tomorrow.

Not threatening to kick them out the door…

5) You look for the good in people, not the bad

Putting people down to make yourself appear superior is an all-around bad way to gain the respect of others.

If you tend to earn people’s respect as a leader rather than demand it, you’ll look for the good in others, not the bad.

Of course, being a good leader is also about giving constructive criticism to improve the development of your workforce and the running of operations.

But the classic “critical sandwich” (where you give positive feedback, followed by constructive criticism, followed by the positive) is popular for a reason.

People want (and need) to hear the good as well as the bad.

And you’ll earn their respect so much more if you recognize their strengths, not just call them out on their downfalls.

6) You take the blame, not pass it

signs youre a charismatic person 9 signs you’re a leader who earns respect, not demands it

A good leader should always have their team’s backs. That doesn’t mean defending their mistakes until they’re blue in the face.

But it does mean apologizing on behalf of the team when needed. And not throwing your staff under the bus at the first opportunity you get.

Everyone makes mistakes, and they are best handled between you and the worker responsible.

For example, you’re in a team meeting and your superior criticizes something that went wrong, and you remember that you told Tony to do it.

You could immediately blame Tony in the meeting.

But if you do this, Tony won’t be best pleased.

Tony (and the other staff) may respect your instructions in the future to avoid being blamed publicly again. But it’s unlikely you’ll have earned their true respect.

Whereas if you take the fall as the leader of the team, and address it with the person responsible later, you’re much more likely to earn the whole team’s true respect.

7) You criticize privately

Similarly to the point above, a leader who earns respect will always criticize privately vs publicly.

Giving constructive criticism is good for the performance and personal development of your team.

But criticism, even when it’s constructive, can be taken the wrong way if it’s not done right.

Criticizing a team member in a public environment is not the right way to earn the respect of your team.

Sure, it may get them to respect your orders. But it will come from fear of being publicly humiliated, rather than genuine, earned respect.

Instead, workers value leaders who take time to sit them aside and talk about their development in the right environment.

8) You don’t ask for respect

This may be an obvious one. But leaders who demand respect ask for respect.

Whereas leaders who earn respect let it come from their words and actions.

Asking for someone’s respect is possibly one of the worst things you can do.

Just like it’s true in relationships, it’s true in leadership.

If you have to ask, it probably means you don’t have it.

And people aren’t just going to give you their respect just because you ask for it.

You know in the movies where a parent screams at their teenage kid, “I am your parent! You have to show me respect!”?

And the kid subsequently continues to not respect said parent?

Yeah, that’s because asking for people’s respect just doesn’t work.

And it’s the same in the workplace when you’re a leader.

9) You give respect

Do you remember in school when the teachers would talk down to you and tell you that they knew better because they were your teacher?

These types of leaders used to try to demand your respect by putting you down.

But a good leader earns your respect by treating you with respect.

They don’t humiliate, talk down to people, or wait for others to earn their respect – no matter who the person is, what their job title says, or how essential (or non-essential) they are to the business.

Instead, they treat everyone respectfully from the get-go.

Because treating people respectfully is (and always will be) one of the best ways to genuinely earn someone else’s respect.

Final thoughts

Wanting to be respected as a leader doesn’t happen overnight.

While some workers will instantly have a degree of respect for you because you’re their leader, this can slip away if you abuse your power.

Likewise, it can be surface-level respect, rather than true, genuine respect for you as a leader, if you demand it instead of earning it.

And the difference will show through in how they work with you, the jobs they do for you, and how much they go above and beyond for you.

Because a well-respected team, with a respectful leader, is more likely to be happy, helpful, and productive.

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Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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