Every salesperson is taught that people buy from those whom they know, like and trust. The same is true for leadership. Leaders must “sell” their vision to stakeholders and followers to gain buy-in (even that word shows the relationship to sales) or risk failure and high turnover. But there is something else. Something critical that is often missed. Aretha Franklin knows it: R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Respect provides assurance – confidence in the ability and tenacity of the leader to effectively run the organization and deliver on promises. Without respect, productivity declines, sales suffer, communication breaks down, and gossip may bubble.

Here’s an interesting fact: you can respect someone and not like them. This causes problems for some of my clients. A few struggle with the word respect, especially women. To some, it connotes rigid disciplinarian behavior – leadership through force and a fear of pain and consequence for non-compliers. When I asked one CEO client what respect meant to her, she shared a story from her childhood of a Catholic school nun rapping her ruler against the desk as she commanded the students’ attention. Respect meant fear. My client hated that nun and did not want to be feared as a leader. We had to reinterpret her definition of respect so she could lead with kindness, compassion AND respect. She found that you can be liked, trusted, and respected as a leader. This took her leadership effectiveness to new heights. Her confidence skyrocketed.

I had a painful awakening the other day. I realized that I was lacking respect from my horse Noble. Oh sure he likes me, trusts me and loves to be with me. But when I’m riding him and ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do, I often get some push-back. I even called the vet a number of times to see if something was physically wrong. I had his saddle checked, his teeth done and all his parts examined. Yes he has a few aches and pains, but nothing significant that would cause such resistance under saddle. I then realized that his “issue” was me.  He didn’t respect me as a rider. Ouch. I’ve been riding most of my life, have trained horses, and shown competitively. I bred Noble as my prize horse, but at 12 years old, he didn’t respect me. This realization smacked me in the ego. I had to step into a more powerful place of leadership to earn his respect as a rider. So I did. And guess what? Our next ride was amazing. I could feel the shift in his mind and body from resistance to acceptance and willingness.

So how do you do this at work? It’s actually a similar approach to the one I used with Noble. Here are five tips to establish respect:

  1. Show up consistently with confidence – no one respects an insecure leader. Give yourself what you need to be confident. I often hire experts to help me through challenges in my business and in my life. With Noble, I hired a riding instructor and rode her horse to get feedback on my own approach, gain some new tools and become a better rider.
  2. Be clear on expectations – know what you want and share your vision. Allow flexibility in how something gets done, but be clear on what you want. Design metrics to track progress so others know when they are on and off-track. No surprises.
  3. Confront resistance immediately – seek first to understand. Be sure that you are communicating effectively and listen to the other’s needs and fears. Resistance is often fear-based. Relieve the fear and the resistance may disappear. Compromise as needed, but do not let resistance fester. Set boundaries for what you are willing to tolerate and be ready to be more assertive if necessary.
  4. Enforce expectations – If someone does not meet your expectations, stand your ground and be firm to get what you want. Be clear on the repercussions of failing to meet expectations. Sometimes you may have a bad fit and have to break ties. That’s ok.
  5. Celebrate and reward regularly! Be sure to acknowledge efforts and progress toward goals. Celebrate milestones with a group lunch or other event. Publicly recognize individual efforts. This helps to maintain momentum and keep your people inspired. Noble loves lavish praise.

To gain more respect, first look at yourself. Do you respect yourself? Be honest. As the horses show us, respect is reflective; if you do not respect yourself, others will not respect you. Here’s to your empowered leadership!