R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Give it to gain it

I often ponder what to write about. Thank you to the, “I expect respect first,” guy.

I was speaking with a group of members of IMA – Institute of Management Accountants Inc., the association of accountants and financial professionals in business). We were talking about having difficult conversations with people who are not meeting our expectations, either related to performance or conduct or attendance and timeliness.

This guy started out by raising a valid point. He asked, “How do we have conversations with people when we don’t know where they’ve come from? For example, everyone’s childhoods are different.” Up to this point, I’m tracking with him. I understand the question, and he’s right; we don’t know.

Then he went on. “How do I have a conversation with a young employee who perhaps grew up not learning to respect others…and then send the message that I expect respect from them before they’ll get respect from me?”

Uh oh. There we go. The, “I demand respect” card. Yeah, I know…a number of you out there are wondering the same thing. Let’s start by taking a look at the definition of “mutual respect.”

I want to start here, because I actually hear a desire for mutual respect commonly. The Oxford English Dictionary says, “Mutual respect is defined as a proper regard for the dignity of person or position.” Isn’t it odd for anyone to think that someone else needs to go first? Doesn’t everyone deserve proper regard for the dignity of their person-ness?

What about “respect?” The Oxford English Dictionary gives us a few things to consider:

As a noun:

  • A feeling of admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.
  • Due regard for the feelings, wishes or rights of others.

As a verb:

  • Admire someone as a result of their abilities, qualities or achievements.
  • Have due regard for someone’s feelings, wishes or rights.

So, let’s imagine that you are an established business professional. You’ve hired a young professional, and today is his or her first day. Here’s what the “respect me first” thing might look like:

“Welcome to this company. When you’ve demonstrated to me that you have due regard for my feelings and wishes, then I will have regard for yours. Additionally, when I feel confident that you admire my abilities and qualities and achievements, I will admire yours. Since I have a more important role than you do, you will need to go first.”

How do you like this? If you fall in the “I demand respect” sect, you might want to think about how this comes across to others. And, I get it…you’re probably not going to say the words that I’ve shared above, but really, if you break respect down to ground level, this is what you’re saying. My experience over the years is that words like respect, integrity, loyalty and honesty get thrown around a lot without people really breaking them down to their true meaning.

On the flip side of the coin, we have the privilege of working with some fantastic CEOs who, even in the bigness of their roles, would say about that, “Oh my goodness, please. I’m barely important. All of these hundreds (or thousands) of employees … these are the people who make things happen. I’d be in a real bind without them.” Welcome to contemporary leadership. At the forefront of contemporary leadership is humility. Humility is valuing others beyond yourself. Not instead of yourself; beyond yourself. We’re surrounded by too many people every day who look at themselves as the entity that the world revolves around.

Social researcher Michael McQueen, in dispelling the myth that members of Generation Y are disrespectful, has this to say about respect: “Far from being something that is unimportant to Gen Y, respect is actually a core value. They will show respect for older people or those in positions of authority; it is just that the pathway to respect is different for this group. Unlike older generations, Gen Y won’t simply show respect based on a person’s title, role or the institution they represent. With this group, respect must be earned. They will show respect but on two conditions only; if it is reciprocal, and if it is based in relationship. For today’s young people, respect must be earned and not assumed. For Gen Y, being worthy of being respected is similar to being a nice person … if you have to tell them you are, then perhaps you really aren’t.”

Respect need not be based on position, age, tenure or perceived power. I read this great piece of advice long ago: “If you want to be respected by someone, respect them first.”

Aleta Norris is a principal and co-founder of Brookfield-based Impact Consulting Group LLC and Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. She can be reached at anorris@livingasaleader.com.

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