Do you want your employees to listen to you? How can you gain respect as a leader?

Before you can lead anyone successfully, your team must respect you, and that starts with having certain universal qualities. Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie explains that if your team respects you, they’ll be willing to follow your lead.

We’ll explore the four qualities to exhibit so you learn how to gain respect as a leader.

1. Good Leaders Are Caring

Gallup research shows that people who feel their leaders care about them are more likely to stay with that leader, have more engaged customers, be more productive at work, and create more profit for their company. The authors explain that to understand how to gain respect as a leader, you must exhibit care to inspire reciprocal care for the company.

(Shortform note: How can you balance care and necessary criticism as a leader? As a caring leader, you don’t want to hurt your team’s feelings, but sometimes difficult conversations are necessary. One way to do this is to separate a team member’s behavior in need of improvement from the team member themself. This will help you accept and care for the person without negatively skewing your view of them by overly associating them with the problematic behavior and without undoing the emotional well-being you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.)

For example, Standard Chartered’s chairman, Mervyn Davies always suggested that his employees put their families first and promoted the emotional well-being of his team through several wellness programs. In turn, he says his employees love their roles and are loyal to his company. (Shortform note: Davies stepped down as chairman in 2009, but Standard Chartered remains to be a place that cares for employees—it earned a Great Place to Work Certification for the third year in a row in 2022, with 91% of employees saying they could take time off work when they need to.) 

2. Good Leaders Are Honest

As a leader, it’s also important for you to be honest with your team. To Conchie and Rath, honesty means being true and transparent about good and bad news that involves your team. If your team doesn’t trust that you’re being truthful with them, they’re significantly less likely to be engaged with your mission. One Gallup study showed there was just a 1-in-12 chance that followers would be engaged with their work if they didn’t trust their leaders. In contrast, followers who trust their leaders have a more than 1-in-2 chance of being engaged. 

Relationships built on honesty will also increase your team’s efficiency. Gallup research has found that people who know and trust each other well work better together. This is because when you have a relationship with someone, you don’t have to spend time trying to figure out how to engage with them—you can just get right down to business. 

For example, if you’re a manager delivering negative feedback to a new employee, you might not know what style of communication they’re most receptive to. As a result, your conversation could backfire and you end up with a disgruntled or confused employee. On the other hand, if you’re delivering feedback to an employee you have an established, honest relationship with, the directive will likely land on the first conversation and you can immediately move forward.

Organize Your Problems, Then Address Them

Conchie and Rath recommend being transparent with your team about bad news, but what do you do if the issue isn’t extremely severe or urgent? After all, interrupting your team’s work every time you have minor or non-pressing bad news might hurt efficiency overall. In Traction, Gino Wickman argues that problems should be categorized into three different lists depending on their severity:

1. A list of issues for quarterly meetings: These issues aren’t time-pressing and can wait to be dealt with when it’s convenient—for example, if HR is changing a company-wide norm.
2. A list of issues for weekly meetings: These are strategic issues that need to be addressed with more urgency. For example, the company’s priorities need to be discussed.
3. A list of urgent, departmental issues: This list contains issues that should be brought to the attention of the department head at a weekly departmental meeting. For example, this could be a meeting to address an unexpected drop in sales or an upcoming presentation that was scheduled last minute.

3. Good Leaders Are Steady

The next virtue that good leaders contribute to their teams is steadiness. Steadiness gives your team peace of mind and lets them know that you and the company are going to consistently support them during times of struggle. This means you should have steady values, but you should also strive for steadiness in a practical, financial sense. The authors explain that people want to feel their jobs are secure. When people feel secure, they perform better: Gallup research shows that when people feel confident in their company’s financial future, they are nine times more engaged with their work.

To help your employees feel like they’re sailing on a steady ship, be transparent about the company’s health, its goals, and your progress toward them. This will not only clear up any uneasiness about the company’s financial status with your employees, which will give them a sense of stability about their careers, but it will also give them a clearer sense of the role they play in helping the company succeed. 

(Shortform note: Another form of stability you and your team can benefit from is psychological safety, that is, a collective belief that team members can freely express themselves and take risks without repercussions. There are a few benefits to making your team members feel like you’re open to their ideas: They’re more likely to feel motivated because they feel like they can speak their mind and make a difference on your team. Your team members will make better decisions because they’ll feel comfortable exchanging more ideas, which will give you more information to consider. Lastly, your team will be more willing to admit and learn from mistakes, which leads to growth and improvement.)

4. Good Leaders Foster Optimism

Steadiness helps people feel secure in the short term, but optimism gives people a sense of security and excitement for the future. If people feel positive about the future of your team, they’ll perform better. One Gallup study found that workers who felt enthusiastic about the future of their work life had a 69% chance of being highly engaged with their work, whereas workers who did not feel excited about their future had less than a 1% chance of being highly engaged. Optimism produces these results because it gives people something to look forward to, and it keeps something positive in mind when the present becomes difficult. 

On the other hand, when leaders are busy responding to problems all the time, it shows their followers that they aren’t in control of the situation, which can influence people to lose confidence in them. Conchie and Rath explain that most leaders spend the majority of their time responding to problems rather than planning improvements for the future and fostering optimism throughout their team. There are two reasons that leaders react more than plan:

First, we live in a work culture that rewards problem-solving short-term issues more than innovation. Second, solving immediate issues is easier than thinking of large-scale, preventative plans or future improvements that may not manifest until years later. 

(Shortform note: As Conchie and Rath explain, long-term improvements can foster optimism, but they’re more difficult and time-consuming than solving short-term problems. To make long-term goals more feasible, consider creating a thorough plan. For example, The 12 Week Year explains how to outline a plan that’s specific, measurable, pushes your limits, and keeps you accountable. Building on Conchie and Rath’s previous virtues, making a plan can also be an opportunity to be honest with your team about improvements that need to be made, which will build trust. You can also be transparent about your team’s progress toward a goal, which can help people feel like your team is steady and their future is secure.)

How to Gain Respect as a Leader: 4 Key Qualities to Exhibit

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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