What the Best Leaders Do to Earn Respect

What the Best Leaders Do to Earn Respect

John Eades 16/06/2020 3
What the Best Leaders Do to Earn Respect

Most leaders put in the effort to earn respect, while others naively rely on their title to provide it. 

Regardless of the way it is gained, without respect, you can’t lead. At best, you can manage others but forget the idea of getting the best out of a team. This is why the second leadership principle in Building the Best is: Without strong relationships, you can’t lead.  

Even the thought of losing the respect of someone or something a leader cares about can cause a pit in their stomach to form.  Research suggests that overall happiness in life is more related to how much you are respected and admired by those around you, not to the status that comes from the amount of money you make or have.

Commanding & Demanding Respect Isn't The Answer

While the position a leader is in often comes with built-in respect, it can’t and won’t sustain respect for an extended period. Respect is earned, and it’s earned through a lot of hard work and correct decision making. As Paulo Coelho said, “Respect is for those who deserve it, not for those who demand it.”

Once respect is lost, gaining it back is one of the hardest things a leader can do. Leaders lose the respect of their people for all different kinds of reasons. Often, it’s lost for a big intentional decision that is glaringly selfish. 

Through my experience working with leaders from all industries in a variety of positions, it’s most common that leaders lose respect not because of one of these big decisions, but because of a collection of subtle choices, often without awareness of their mistakes.  

Here are a few common examples:

  • Not standing up to someone or something that's wrong
  • Treating team members differently based on personal relationships
  • Refusal to confront the bully on the team
  • Interrupting others while they are speaking
  • Physically being in a meeting but not being mentally present
  • Hearing but not actively listening to team members
  • Not keeping their word when they say they will do something

If you have been in a position of leadership for any length of time, you know your people are watching your every move and listening to the words that come out of your mouth. 

Take a good look at your actions. Are you guilty of any of these? We all make mistakes, but respect is lost when habits form, and people aren’t self-aware enough to recognize their pattern of behavior.  

Here’s how the best leaders cultivate a culture of respect on their team and you can too: 

Look Beyond Commonalities 

It sounds almost foolish for me to have to write this given our current environment, but each person on a team is equal. They might not play the same role or contribute to the overall success of a team in the same way, but the moment team members start being treated differently is the moment your trust begins to erode.   

Your human nature will have you gravitating toward people who act like you, look like you, or that you get along with personally. While there is nothing wrong with this by itself, leaders tend to give special treatment, attention, and let mistakes slide for these people. All leaders are challenged to overcome different biases in order to have better respect-filled relationships across their team.  

If you want more respect in your culture, look beyond commonalities. Be consistent with the opportunities available and the accountability leveraged with each member of the team.  

Do What's Right, Always

There are many critical questions leaders should not only ask themselves in their careers and have an answer for. One of the crucial questions you must ask yourself and be able to clearly answer is: Who do I want to be as a leader?  

It’s a deep question, but if you don’t have an answer for it, there is a good chance you don’t have boundaries of your character. This might not be a problem when everything is going well, but it becomes a problem when tough situations arise or decisions have to be made that are on the border of right and wrong.  

Questionable decisions start small. As an example, rarely does a criminal’s first offense start with robbing a bank. It starts small indiscretions and escalates over time. 

Since your people are watching, doing what is right under pressure will always be something that builds respect. Knowing who you want to become as a leader will help guide these tough decisions and do what’s right. I shared some ideas about making positive daily deposits to help you in a recent episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast.

Share the Truth, Even if it Hurts

Many leaders struggle to share hard truths with their people out of fear of the reaction or the uncomfortable nature of the conversation. Regardless of the reason, sharing the truth is a powerful way to earn respect.

Sharing hard truths, while difficult, shows your people you care about the team and them enough to help them get better in the future. As I tell people in our virtual leadership workshops, if you have information that can help someone else improve and you don’t share it, you are only hurting them. 

The best part of getting into the habit of sharing the truth is your team will appreciate your courage and willingness to share it. The more you do it, the easier it becomes until it’s just part of your culture. 

Empower People to Make Decisions

As a leader, you are ultimately responsible for everything your team does. However, if you make all the decisions, your people won’t reach their full potential, and won’t achieve the level of success you desire.

Empowering your people to make decisions is a fast track to creating a culture of respect. Check out this story of a manager from Chick-fil-A, empowering her people to make decisions.


Remember, respect is earned and without it, you can’t lead. Heade this warning: it can also be eroded in an instant. Don’t take it for granted. 

Take the Free Leadership Style Quiz? Join over 40k leaders and discover your current leadership style for free.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. He is currently scheduling virtual workshops an keynotes. Learn more about the talks. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

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  • Gavin Bisset

    So on point !

  • Reece Melvin

    Nailed it

  • James Potter

    Thoughtful piece !

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John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

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