How Senior Leaders Gain Respect (Part 1)

[May 8, 2020]  Let’s begin with an admission; it is not possible to force people to respect you.  We all would like to be respected, so what does it take for leaders to gain respect?  The reasons we “want” respect are irrelevant for our discussion here, but I do believe that desire is a distant, deep-seated psychological need.

In this two-part series, I attempt to answer the question, “How do senior leaders gain respect?”  Note, my attempt to answer the question is about senior leaders but applies to anyone, leader or not.  I hope you gain something from the discussion and any comments are appreciated.

Not that long ago, I was surprised to see a young U.S. Air Force Colonel who came to help my Engineer section design a bridge over the Tigris River in Baghdad, Iraq.  She had a degree in Civil Engineering from Stanford University and was considered the best person for the job.

We were all amazed by this USAF Engineer Colonel; the way she projected authority, her in-depth knowledge of engineering, and she came to us highly recommended by senior Air Force brass.  We learned something from her. You will read some of it in these articles.

There are three ways that we can increase the probability that people will respect us.  Today, I’ll start with the most important:

  1. Pacing reality: Psychologists use this term and I have found it valuable in this description.  It means when in a conversation with others, take it slow, and acknowledge what the other person is thinking.  Listen closely.  Show them they have robust and valid reasoning and opinions.  Show how important they are to you and that they have something important you can learn.  Do so honestly; this cannot be faked (at least not very well).  This makes people more open to changing their minds (if you are trying to persuade them) and also have a better judgment of you. Don’t allow them to feel dumb or unimportant.  “Winning” an argument or “one-upmanship” does not work that well and can is the opposite of pacing reality.  In this sense, winning does not help you achieve respect.  One especially effective technique in conversation about a specific topic of interest is to propose a hypothetical and answer it logically and politely while using the ideas of that other person.  Be sure not to denigrate the other person or their beliefs.  Show them you are trying to help.  Understand the other person and give them credit for doing their best to figure things out, even if you disagree.

Respect is an important topic and, in the past, I wrote about it several times in this blog (see links here, here, and here).  I hope these can give a good sense of my philosophy on respect and its importance to smoothing relationships, creating efficiencies, and reducing emotional obstacles.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the final two ways senior leaders can gain respect.

On a side note, today is Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day).  Seventy Five years ago today, Nazi Germany surrendered.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

23 thoughts on “How Senior Leaders Gain Respect (Part 1)

  1. Watson Bell

    Hey guys, go to part two and read what Max had to say. You’ll love it. Oh, great series, Gen. Satterfield.

  2. Bryan Lee

    Here are a few other ways to ensure you will be respected as a leader:
    1. Consistently Strong Work Ethic; Set The Standard
    2. Not Afraid to Take Risks; Admit Wrong Doing
    3. Sponsor High-Potential Employees; Serve Others Rightly
    4. Have Their Employees’ Backs; Deflect Their Own Recognition

  3. Max Foster

    When you think of great leaders who are honored and respected, they weren’t always necessarily well-liked. But they were respected for how they led and made those around them better. Over time this earned respect defined their legacy in a positive manner and secured their place in history.

    1. Linux Man

      Yes, like Ronald Reagan, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower, … just to name a few from the US. Many more out there too. But there are those who are highly partisan politically and they are hated as much loved.

  4. Nancy B

    I’ve never been impressed by titles, though I have always been respectful of one’s position of authority and responsibility. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily respect “the person” behind the title.

  5. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Many people aspire to titles because that forces others to respect them. But, to me, this is the lowest form of respect, especially if the person you’re receiving respect from is more junior than you or works at a lower rung in the bureaucracy. Respect has to be earned. It’s not about a title.

    1. Shawn C. Stolarz

      When people respect you only because of your authority, they will give you the minimum effort.

    2. Wendy Holmes

      I agree Otto. Today’s workplace – highly influenced by millennials and embedded with people that have trouble trusting others – requires proof of performance before respect is earned.

    1. Xerxes I

      Yes, and note that Queen Eliz II is the only royal King or Queen serving in wartime to that point since the 17th century (I think more than 300 years). She was a Lieutenant in the British Army when she turned 18 in 1944 or 45. More leaders should have served.

  6. Kenny Foster

    I see that you have Chesty Puller, the famous US Marine general from WWII. Excellent thumbnail for this issue. Senior leaders must have respect in order to smooth thru the very hard decisions (and the impact on those below them) that address the mission. The US Army says, “Mission first, People always.” I don’t like the saying but it’s getting to the point. I don’t like it because it sends mixed signals. But you have a great 2-part series started Gen. Satterfield. I hope the second part is as good and ties all this together.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      And let’s not forget Chesty Puller during WWII and that today is VE Day.
      Wow, 75 years ago today the war ended.
      I know only one WWII vet and he is 101 next month. I’ll be calling him today to thank him.

    2. José Luis Rodriguez

      Hi Kenny! I’m sure the second part will be worth reading too. WW2 was a time of GOOD versus EVIL. It was clear to everyone at the time. Today, however, many don’t think there is any such thing as an evil society (like Nazi germany or Imperialistic japan). Or, maybe even Communist russia. That is not so.

      1. Martin Shiell

        Right !! Today we are told that values are relative and it “depends” on your society. Anyway, we are also told that values are only there to protect the rich and powerful over the poor and powerless. This is typical Marxism and look where it got China and Russia after the war.

  7. Watson Bell

    “Pacing reality” never heard of this before but I think I got it. Thanks. Good to see another two-part series. I look forward to the next one.

    1. JT Patterson

      Yes, and so does everyone else. These are things we should be paying rapt attention to during our time at home in this pandemic of China’s making. Haven’t seen you in the comment section in a while. Hope all is right with you and your family.

      1. Watson Bell

        Yes, all is well JT. I am happy that I get a chance to read Gen. Satterfield’s blog occasionally.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      I think most of us have never heard of it but good to read about something I never heard of. Hey, I wonder what the next part will be about? May guess is “communication” or “respect” or something like those. What does anybody else guess? See you folks tomorrow.

  8. Eva Easterbrook

    Excellent start to an important topic. I can’t wait to read Part 2.


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