If you can’t respect the person, respect the position, he told me, as if that’s how respect works. As if trust can be conferred on a chair. Or loyalty strewn about the office walls. Sensing my hesitation, my inability to flip a switch and make respect fly out, his demanding turned quickly to threatening. It’s her team. It’s her vision. Do what she says. He didn’t say, or else, but I felt it.
Never mind that she had no vision. Never mind that she bullied the team. Never mind that her intentions seemed completely self-serving. Respect the position.
Does that sound like someone you know? Someone you see in the mirror every day?
Maybe it isn’t so extreme. Maybe your vision is compelling and your instructions are sound. And you’re too busy to bully! Check yourself anyway. Be honest. Do you expect respect? Do you expect trust? Do you expect loyalty?
What are you doing to cultivate those things?
In my situation, the answer would have been, nothing. We were in a bad place. Veterans had quit. The workload was high. And chaos was her favorite management style. When I pushed back, to protect myself from burnout and bullying and dread, higher management stepped in to help. And his prescription was an attitude adjustment. For me.
It didn’t work.
My management had fallen into a common trap: They thought that because the organization called them leaders, they deserved the spoils of leadership. They expected to reap the benefits of trust, loyalty, and respect without working to re-earn them everyday. And when they noticed all was lost, and morale needed to be rebuilt, they forgot the most important rule:
Leaders go first.
It applies to every aspect of leadership. Not just vision-setting. Not just risk-taking. Not just bureaucratic-battling. Everything. If you want a respectful team, instead of demanding it, you must give your team respect. If you want a loyal team, instead of threatening, you must work toward collective gain. If you want a trusting team, you must trust your team. If you want to lead, you must go first.
Even though I wasn't a designated leader back then, I missed my opportunity, too.
I didn't need anyone's permission to follow the rule. I could have just as easily gone first. I could have taken responsibility for the tone. I could have led us to a better place.
It’s too late for that team, now. I don't get a second chance. But I'll bet it’s not too late for you. You can make the decision to change everything, and you can start today!
Learn from our mistakes. Decide what kind of team you want. Become the leader. Go first.
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