The Right Way to Earn Respect as a Business Leader

If you are a business leader entering a brand new situation or work environment, you will likely be better received if you have a positive reputation to precede you.  Yet, in order to be highly esteemed by your staff and colleagues along the way, remember that respect is a two-way street; in other words, you must give in order to receive.



Although prior knowledge of your penchant for fairness and ethics is important to the continuation of your career, it’s not the whole story. The next chapter requires you to live up to your status and not disappoint, keeping in mind that respect isn’t something you earn just once, but must maintain by continuing to act with the same integrity you began with early on.

In the Beginning

If you haven’t consolidated, or even earned, your reputation yet, pick your favorite big name and look at how they got to where they are.  Who did you pick?  Was it BezosZuckerbergMayerNooyiCookMuskGatesJobs, or even Page?  What is the theme that seems to be a common thread for all of them?  They generally and deliberately fostered agreement, and were considered respected influences.

The point is that any of those CEOs (or any other business leader) might be faulted for one thing or another, but if they’re respected it’s likely because they offered their own respect all the way down the chain.  The very best CEOs know the names of the janitors, security guards, and almost every staffer they meet.  They know that every single job contributes to the total.

Good Leaders

Who would you respect more?

A)   The boss who arrives every day at precisely at 9:00 AM, stays in his or her office all day long, working hard, accomplishing great things, and leaves precisely at 5:00 PM, or:

B)   The boss who comes in a little early, asks about the security guard’s spouse, speaks genially to all the people s/he meets (knowing their names), and then makes the rounds of all his/her or her subordinates asking how their work is going and if there’s any way s/he can help; prior to getting started on carrying out the day’s accomplishments.

It’s not much of the question really, is it?  The person who is interested in other people, one who is supportive of their efforts, or even stays late to take care of some “menial chores” so that everybody can get home earlier; that is the person you want to have for a boss.  That person doesn’t simply rely on “Executive” or “Chief of ___” to get by with minimal effort.

15 Tips for Consistency

  • Lead by example.  Be the person others aspire to be!
  • Don’t be late for meetings.
  • Don’t ever lose your temper; learn to laugh to break tension.
  • Keep to the schedule and don’t let meetings run long.
  • Meet promised deadlines.
  • Have an open-door policy and encourage it in others.
  • Find a real reason to compliment different people every day.
  • Mentor fellow workers to help them excel.
  • Tell your people what you want them to do, not how to do it.
  • Admit when you’ve made a mistake.
  • Support others when they make mistakes.
  • Always do what you say you are going to do.
  • Recognize the accomplishments of others.
  • Share the Glory.
  • And don’t be afraid to “rock the boat” when necessary. When someone is undermining the team, make whatever decision is essential for resolving the situation.  Don’t let it fester:  Reassign, retrain, or replace.  It’s your job to keep the ship on course!


The Takeaway

Understanding your fellow workers means understanding their motivations, figuring out what inspires them, and what drives them to achieve things.  If they seem unmotivated, sometimes you can ignite it in them by having an insatiable curiosity.

Pose questions such as:

  • Why do our customers buy from us?
  • Why is ABC’s product more popular than ours?
  • Would we sell more if it were [insert color/design/style]?
  • What is a completely unrelated way to use our product?

Just keep asking questions, because even if it doesn’t happen right away, people will eventually start to get curious about the answers.  What follows, is more thoughtful investigation, with subsequent inspiration and then innovation. The most respected leaders consistently inspire reflection, creativity, and determination among their workers and colleagues.

Whichever technique you choose, try not to demand respect because, even if they do capitulate, it will only garner you the minimum effort.  Earned respect is more enduring and inclusive.  People will offer you their sincere and total support when their respect for you is genuine.

More from Stewart, Cooper & Coon:  7 Helpful Tips for Managing Younger Employees


Fred Coon, CEO

At SC&C we offer Career Analysis to help senior decision-makers from all walks of life identify strategies and tactics to increase their value-add employment potential.