A long time ago, a cruel king ruled his country through intimidation. He said awful things and tried to show his strength through callous actions. Many of the citizens were fearful of their king’s wrath.
The king had a dog, which he loved more than anything, On one fateful morning, the dog died. The king organized a state funeral for his pet and ordered his kingdom to attend.
Many of the people turned out, which made the king very happy. He thought he was the most popular king in the world because so many citizens mourned his dog’s passing.
“Look how much my people respect me,” he said aloud while viewing the large crowd attending the service.
Afterward, he continued his coercive rule – believing his people saw him as powerful and decisive.
The next year, the king died. And none of the citizens attended his funeral.
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The origin of the phrase “Respect is earned” is sketchy – although historians point to Pakistani King Hussein Nishah (1538–1599) who wrote (translated): “Treat people the way you want to be treated. Talk to people the way you want to be talked to. Respect is earned, not given.”
In these difficult times, we are desperately seeking leadership – within our governments, healthcare industry, essential services, businesses, churches and families.
We are depending on our leaders to find scientific solutions and to provide data-driven guidance for the new normal. Our respect for them, however, is not being defined by title or a command. Instead, we are holding them in regard for their ability to collaborate, communicate and comfort.
Trust and confidence in our leaders are as important as ever. We need them to facilitate change in order to save lives, restart our economies and prevent more illness. We need them to cultivate respect within our nation and around the world.
Eldridge Cleaver, a political activist during the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s said: “When (respect) is due, no one can stop it. But it cannot be fabricated. The seeds of strong character, self-control, humility, and fairness must first be watered. Then due respect will spring forth in full flower.”
The Center for Creative Leadership conducted a survey of 3,041 individuals across 10 countries and found that being respectful is viewed as a critical leadership responsibility.
Kelly Hannum, one of the authors of the study, wrote that leaders earn respect when they develop a “culture of respect.” The authors found that listening is key for the respect of leaders, even if they disagree with the viewpoint. She also said active disrespect — such as rude, insulting or devaluing words or behaviors — doesn’t create respect. “Respect is an action: We show respect; we act respectfully; we speak with respect.”
The study concludes by saying that status, power and role all create the context in which respect is interpreted. “Leaders need to take the time to understand how respect is given and received in cultures and groups other than the ones they think of as ‘normal.’ “
So, how does a leader earn that respect? Take a look at our most respected leaders in business, politics, religion and nonprofit sectors, and you are likely to see these common traits:
- A passion for the purpose of their mission and a constant drive to make their organization relevant.
- An ability to effectively communicate, including listening.
- A focus on goals and objectives - and the ability to lead and follow a proven process without distractions.
- A consistently strong work ethic.
- A skill to make difficult decisions based on data, research, input from others, experience and doing the right thing.
- A level of confidence to take risks, with an understanding and acceptance that failure might happen.
- An aptitude to admit mistakes and to learn from them.
- A determination to take the higher ground during a conflict and consider all points of view.
- An acknowledgment that they don't know all the answers, and are willing to engage and value those who do.
- A capacity to truly appreciate the work of others and to publicly recognize their successes.
- An understanding that people within their organizations have challenges beyond work (family, health) and that they need compassion and help.
- A willingness to allow team members to take on new responsibilities which pushes them to grow professionally and personally.
- A commitment to fairness and accountability – including (and especially) of themselves.
Leaders throughout history who carried these attributes not only had profound success in their fields, lots of people showed up to pay their respects at their funerals.