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How to earn respect as a leader

Employees will give you minimum effort if the only reason they respect you is for your authority

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June 18, 2015 |
Steven Burns

In a Harvard Business Review post, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst shares advice on how leaders can build credibility in an organization — especially if they are new to it, have a different background than others on a team or are not in a position of authority.

He urges leaders to ask themselves if they command respect because people have to respect them or because they’ve truly earned it.

“When people respect you only because of your authority, they will give you the minimum effort,” he writes. “Some incredibly brilliant people have earned respect because they are so smart, but most people aren’t incredibly brilliant.”

Whitehurst recommends three ways that leaders can begin commanding more respect:

  1. Show passion for the purpose of your organization and constantly drive interest in it.
  2. Demonstrate confidence.
  3. Engage your people.

“Owning up to what you don’t know is an important way to build trust,” he continues. “But it’s just as important to be able to contribute your knowledge and expertise in a way that’s more about the community and what it needs than it is about you and your ego.”

He offers several tips for simplifying the process:

  • Don’t use phrases like “the boss wants it this way” or rely on hierarchical name-dropping. While that may get things done in the short term, it can curtail discussion that’s core to building a team.
  • Publicly recognize a great effort or contribution. It can be as simple as a thank-you e-mail that copies the whole team.
  • Proactively ask for feedback and ideas on a specific topic. And take every opportunity to reinforce the spirit of meritocracy by giving credit where it’s due.
  • Reward a high-performing member of your team with an interesting assignment, even if it’s not in his or her usual area.

Read more from Harvard Business Review.

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, and during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After founding his own software company, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development for the company’s groundbreaking project accounting solution, BQE Core.

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