R-E-S-P-E-C-T is Missing in Our Lives
Steps to Rebuilding Self-Respect & Respect for Others
As a global society, we appear to have completely lost RESPECT for ourselves and others. And, all of what we see happening in our personal, political, and social environments could be improved with a little respect and consideration for one another.
Don’t be fooled thinking I am being simplistic here or feel that I am trivializing things. This pervasive lack of respect for ourselves and one another is a big issue. I want to share with you why I think RESPECT matters and provide a simple tool for building and reinforcing it in yourself as you show increasingly more of it for other people and the positions they hold.
Over the past couple of weeks, a number of issues have arisen in our organization. In themselves, the issues were not that significant; effective people working in effective teams have resolved or are currently resolving them. In observing these issues and the efforts to resolve them, I have come to appreciate more what I have always known, “Things go best when we respect one another in the process.” Following is my call for all of us to be aware of the power of respect, beginning with respect for ones’ self.
We All Put Our Pants on the Same Way
When I was young, my father shared with me more than once his view that we all put our pants on the same way. In this simple phrase, he captured and shared his fundamental belief that we, his family members, were no different from anyone else and capable of becoming whatever or whoever we wanted to be. We had as much opportunity as anyone else. The only question was what we chose to do with the opportunity, how hard we chose to work it. We, his working-class family members, could work to climb the social and economic ladder in competition with everyone else who sought to do so, or we could squander any opportunity to move up a rung. He argued that we were as good as anyone else. We respected his word in this regard, in large part because he walked his talk. He saw himself as the equal of any other man, and he acted from this conviction. More than once, I heard others comment about how my father “carried himself”; he respected himself and others. I saw that those who worked with him and for him really liked him
My father’s view that we were “the same” as everyone else, for better or worse, didn’t mean everyone was equal. In fact, he argued that others by virtue or things like age, experience, appointment, social position, and a list of other distinctions warranted special consideration and respect. They even had the right to expect it. He taught his children that others were due the same respect from us that we expected of them.
My father gave respect, and he got respect. He believed that a social contract existed between us and those we lived with and around. If we wanted to be part of a society, we needed to learn to live by the rules of the society and respect those rules and the persons who had certain authorities under them. My father taught his children to respect hierarchy and authority. We learned from him that the key to self-respect was a cultivated appreciation for the inherent authority of key players within our society, people who had paid their dues and ascended to positions of relative authority. After all, we might one day find ourselves in the very positions we previously chose to respect or disrespect. What goes around comes around.
I was taught, by example, to respect teachers, police officers, and – in fact – anyone who was older than me. As our fathers’ children, we were never chased away from “adult” conversations, but we were not allowed to prematurely insert ourselves into them. We were taught to respect adults and await our acceptance into their ranks. Interestingly, we were naturally enrolled into those ranks as our personal and social maturity, and evident respect for ourselves and others warranted.
This isn’t to say we could not “question authority” – a social evolution and revolution mantra of the 1960s through the 1980s. In fact my father challenged his children to question anything and everything – to not act blindly – but to do so in a respectful manner, recognizing that social order and persons in positions of authority are complementary realities.
The Erosion of Authority & Respect
I watch politics in the US and around the world largely because that is where we find leadership examples, good and bad. There are always new and different examples of what we, as leaders and managers, should do and should not do. I saw far too many examples of what leaders should not do during and after the RNC and DNC Conventions and the election itself. I saw, too clearly, the effects of the erosion of our RESPECT for authority in our culture and society. Lost on everyone seemed to be the idea that “To get respect, you must give respect.” The picture wasn’t pretty. Before I share further what I see today in American politics, I want to share a story.
The Compelling Candidate
A couple of decades back; I was one of two finalists for the CEO position with a health system in the State of New York. My wife, Susan, and I were invited in for the final interview with the Board and community leaders. We spent three days in meetings and social events. Susan and I were sure the position was mine. Then, as we were wrapping up our visit, we chanced to meet the other candidate – who was coming in to begin the round of events we had just completed – in the hotel lobby. We decided to have dinner together that night.
The dinner was great, and we found we like the other finalist a lot. Now let me make a point, when you get down to finalists for a job like this, they are usually equally accomplished. They have some age and experience behind them, and these attributes are uniformly bolstered by some expertise and professional success. On paper, this woman looked, to me, every bit as accomplished as me.
Over dinner, I found myself really liking this woman. I could see Susan liked her too. She was honest and straightforward. She carried CEO Gravitas, but it seemed so special. She exuded confidence while not being at all overbearing. I don’t know how else to say it, “She liked herself.” At the same time, she made us feel good about ourselves. She found a way as we talked to demonstrate appreciation and respect for all three of us, me, Susan, and herself.
When Susan and I got back to the room, I said to Susan, “All things being equal; if I were the Board, I’d hire her. She has the perfect balance of gravitas and likeability. She has self-respect and shows great respect for others.” As it happened, this woman was hired over me, and I never felt like the Board made the wrong decision.
In fact, I learned something powerful from the encounter with her. From that point on, whenever I was hiring – particularly at the C-Level – I would find candidates that met the functional requirements for the position being recruited. When I got down to two equally qualified people, I’d ask myself which of them exhibited the highest level of respect for themselves and others.
In the January 2001 issue of the Harvard Business Review, the contributing author Jim Collins (who had yet to publish his seminal work, Good to Great) discussed his concept of the Level Five Leader. The article was titled “Level Five Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.”
This is all about respect for oneself (controlled and managed ego) and personal humility (the recognition we all put our pants on the same way) to recognize all persons deserve respect for who and what they are.
Too Few Level Five Leaders
My problem with many leaders on display is that they failed to demonstrate respect for themselves, their position, and for others and their positions. The vitriolic rhetoric they spewed at others, neglecting to address the real issues in a substantive way, is often embarrassing. Sadly, we are probably more embarrassed for them than they were embarrassed for themselves.
The issue for me is that I grew up under the concept of “respect for positional authority”. I learned to respect people for the legitimate positions they held within our society. This disposition was strengthened by the taught belief that we should always respect our elders; they have earned that respect for their longevity. I grew up understanding what it took to attain certain positions within our society. I might not care for my Presidents’ policies or personality, but I respect the Office of the President of the United States (POTUS) and the fact that he must have done more than one thing right along the way to warrant so many Americans having voted for him to hold this coveted position. This same view applies to all persons I see in positions of authority, in business, politics, and social dynamics. Everyone holding any position of authority deserves the RESPECT of the office. If a person does not prove worthy of the respect associated with the office, they hold the mechanism for respectfully removing them from their office should be exercised.
But here is my issue: during the recent elections and after I saw so many key players not respecting their positions, I found it difficult to respect them. I saw generals acting as politicians, official delegates disrespecting officers of the law asking for a moment of silence to remember their fallen peers. I saw legislators acting as political pundits, even news anchor people slamming one another. It was awful to see candidates seeking public office attacking one another with utter disrespect rather than addressing the issues.
My biggest disappointment was in seeing people running for office denigrating themselves and their current offices by railing against candidates in social media in a manner they would not if they were facing that person face-to-face. They, by virtue of their status as leaders, their office, and their incumbent authority alone should have been above such common behavior. They demeaned themselves and diminished the respect of others, like me, held for their positions if not for them.
Sadly, these people and so many others who behave in like manner only reflect the current state of the societies we are a part of. Over the past three decades, I have watched RESPECT for self and others (particularly for those in positions of authority) get eroded by the forces of egalitarianism, political correctness, and the idea that everyone has earned and deserves a participation trophy. In an orderly society, all persons cannot be equal. In an ordered society, some people must hold prescribed positions of hierarchical authority. Someone must make the rules and enforce them. Societies languish where there is no organizing structure, where some authorities and accountabilities are not invested in positions of authority, and where positions, if not people, are respected. We have stopped teaching this to our children and reinforcing it in practice in social dynamics, business, and, indeed, it seems in politics.
“I cannot conceive of a greater loss than the loss of one’s self-respect.” —- Mahatma Gandhi, Fools, Martyrs, Traitors: The Story of Martyrdom in the Western World
The good news is it is not too late to turn things around. Like every cause worth addressing, our efforts must start locally, and they will have a global impact. Gandhi called on us to be the change we wish to see in the world. If you want to see others showing more respect, begin by committing to show others more respect. More important, as individuals, if not as leaders, begin by showing more respect for yourself
Everything Matters; Everything Speaks
My competitor for the CEO position I spoke of earlier showed great self-respect. Without a hint of pretension or phoniness, she acted with casual but explicit gravitas. As she enjoyed dinner with us, laughing and telling stories, I could see that she always carried herself as a CEO. She understood that everything matters and everything speaks. Her very bearing, how she carried herself, said that she understood. Her words and actions reinforced her self-respect and ensured others would respect her as she clearly respected them. As leaders, we want to know that everything we say and do sends a message to others. That we respect others, and are, ourselves, due some level of respect as might be dictated by our age, our position, our authorities, or merely as the result of the universal social contract to respect those around us.
Respecting others begins with respecting yourself. However, there is a bit of a chicken versus egg question in that statement.
If you have no respect for other human beings or if you do not recognize and appreciate the value of their existence, how can you value yourself? If you see others as having less worth than you have, how can you not acknowledge and accept another persons’ view that you are somehow less than them? Truly as Henri Frederic Amiel put it, “There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self.” We all want to be respected; we want to be recognized as having worth by others. This requires that we see others as having worth. There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will treat others with respect.
If you want to be a great leader, renew your commitment to respecting people around you; humble yourself in their presence.
If this is hard for you to do now, do not fret too much. Jim Collins believes that humility and respect are qualities that some of us are born with, some of us are taught in our childhood, and some of us can learn in adulthood. Demonstrating knowledge can give you power. Showing respect for others will build your respect: that which others have for you and that you hold for yourself. The American actor and director Clint Eastwood makes the point, “Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that is real power.”
How Do Ego, Humility, and Respect Relate?
Confucius said, “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish us from the beast?”
Level Five is the home of the truly actualized leader: the paradoxical balance of ego and humility. This is the kind of leader we all want to be (whether we have ever thought in these terms or not), a blend of extreme personal humility with an intense professional will. This kind of leader is passionate and driven. He or she is utterly intolerant of mediocrity. When I first read of the character of such a leader, I thought to myself, “How can you, at once exude passion and unrelenting drive, demand it of others, and sincerely reflect humility?”
Jim Collins provided a number of things that Level Five Leaders do, mostly without thinking, to enroll and hold committed followers. He wrote of concepts like crediting others and acting quietly while forcefully. He talked of relying upon inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate. In all ways, however, the Level Five leader acts from sincere humility, the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.
Humility cannot be faked; it is part (or is not part) of the leader’s aura. So, what underpins humility? Plain and simple, I have come to see that it is this thing we call “respect.” Moreover, I have come to know that respect, a feeling, or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, and should be treated appropriately, is a two-way street.
How do you get started?
- Visualize yourself as a respected leader. Imagine for a moment what you would look like to others if you were that respected leader. How would you walk? How would you walk? In what conversations would you choose to participate? What conversations would you avoid? Whom would you most closely associate yourself? Whom would you avoid? Can you see yourself as that respected leader being pulled into gossip and “put down” conversations?
- Be who you see. Once you have created the vision of yourself as the respected leader, act into that self-image. Eye contact and active listening are two tools you are already aware of that will take you miles down the road. Bryant McGill says, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Avoid appearing, much less being distracted when you are interacting with people. Dale Carnegie used to say that the single most powerful way to win friends and influence people is to cause them to feel that when you are speaking with them, they are the most important thing in the world to you. Never lie, deceive, or withhold. You will be found out. Your image will never recover. Abraham Lincoln advised, “If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.”
- Choose relationships with people you respect, who respect you, and others respect. You are judged by the company you keep. I like the way Calvin Jones puts the point, “Birds of a feather flock together, so beware the company you keep. Life has no rules that dictate that you be friends with everyone- just respectful of them. You will become like the persons you are closest to, or they will become like you.” A Level Five Leader decides, “first who, then what.” Surround yourself with people you respect, and then ensure you do not fail them; do everything to warrant their respect and nothing to lose it. Treat every person, however, as if he or she matters (as they do).
“The truest test of a gentleman is his respect for those who can be of no possible service to them.”— William Lyons Phillips
Give others their due. Somewhere, sometime in the past, and it stuck with me, I heard it said that the truest measure of a man is how he treats those who have less power. One of the most significant characteristics of Level Five Leaders is the disposition to acknowledge others for their efforts and contributions and give others maximum credit for success. Level Five Leaders would credit “luck” before they would credit themselves. Do not be fake but do make a point of “appreciating” others. A simple way to show people you appreciate them is to remember their names.
Clarify your boundaries. Being respectful is not being a “pushover.” The Native American leader of the Shawnee Indian Tribe said, more than two hundred years ago, “Show respect, but grovel to no one.” The Level Five Leader is very demanding, but he or she ensures everyone knows his or her expectations. Do not be afraid of respectfully calling it as you see it. Malcolm X said it this way: “I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he is wrong, than one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.” One cannot respect such a deceitful demon.
An Easy-to-Use Tool
How do we return ourselves, our followers, our organizations, and our societies to RESPECT? From my perspective, it always begins with introspection, deep consideration of our thoughts, words, and actions for intent and impact. A couple of seconds taken prospectively in considering possible intent and impact may put ourselves and our positions on higher ground.
We all need to be more “present in the moment,” be more aware of ourselves in our environment, and create conditions for higher self-respect and demonstrative respect for others. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it is understood that events happen. We can’t always control them. But we can control our thoughts and actions in response to them. To evidence such control, we must recognize our thoughts and emotional reactions to the event. Will the thoughts and feelings we have in response to the event produce the result we want? Will our response promote our self-respect? If it won’t, in our own opinion, it won’t likely be respectful of others or increase their respect for us or our positions. So, we must take another course of action that meets our fundamental need for self-respect. The more we come to respect ourselves, the easier it is to respect others.
The process is easy-
- Catch it. Condition yourself to see your thoughts and feelings in response to an event (this can happen before, during or after an event). Then ask yourself if the thoughts and feelings are constructive and if they contribute to your being the person you want to be.
- Check it. If your thoughts and feelings (emotions) are not constructive or consistent with how you want to present yourself and the position you hold, shut them down; don’t give them the fuel of your energy. Certainly, don’t share them with others; don’t go public with thoughts and feelings that will diminish you.
- Change it. Replace the thoughts and emotions that are not working for you with thoughts, feelings, and actions that can.
If you internalize the phrase “Catch it; Check it; Change it,” it can become your mantra for building self-respect, helping others develop self-respect, and giving others reason to respect you and the position of authority you hold.
If this process seems simple, don’t be fooled. It requires self-awareness, discipline, and, most importantly, humility. And it will contribute to making the day-to-day experience of life at work more enjoyable for everyone