Earn it or Demand it?

I was recently talking with a colleague about someone he knows who is currently in a “senior” position at a software company. He mentioned that the person – let’s call him “Tim” was having some problems with his employees. The problem Tim had was that his employees weren’t  - in his eyes – giving him enough respect. I asked some questions about Tim, and it turns out that he hadn’t really done anything to earn his team’s respect – according to Tim, you see, his position of authority entitled him to respect. If Tim were the president of the company – or chief something or other, I’d be more apt to give him a handful of “position related respect”, but just because Tim runs a small organization doesn’t, in my mind, give him reason to demand respect.

To me, this is silly. You don’t get a free pass on respect just because you’re in charge. Assuming he’s competent, Tim wouldn’t have to to a lot to earn his team’s respect. He just hast to do something to earn it. I’m not asking for a special q&a session or anything specific at all. Just show the team that you know what you’re doing. They know you got to your position because you have proven yourself capable, but so far, they haven’t seen it. Show them that you both know something, and that you know your limitations. Have a combination of vision and humility and have some attention to detail. You can do more, but you certainly don’t have to re-demonstrate everything that got you to your position. You do, however, have to give people a reason to respect and follow you. The better the reason, the closer they will follow.

I gave this advice to my friend – I hope Tim can be successful.

Comments (6)
  1. Peter says:

    I agree with you that respect should be earned. But the problem I am seeing is (I am pretty sure this is happening everywhere) that people are trying to hard just to earn that respect. Everything they are doing is just because they want to get some respect. They are focusing too much on earning the respect that they forget about everything else. My idea is that if you’re doing your job well that respect will be earned over time. Same goes with leading (and the team following you) – don’t focus on this, focus on the job you’re suppose to do and do it well.

  2. Alan Page says:

    Well put Peter – thanks for the comment. I agree that sometimes people try too hard and it puts them at a disadvantage – for some reason though, I worry less about those people than the people who feel they deserve respect

  3. Peter says:

    It all depends on what your role in the organization is. If you’re managing people and one of them is trying too hard – this doesn’t really impact you as a leader too much – but it can be really hard to work together with that person if you’re in the same role he is.

    Working with people how feel they deserve respect is probably harded on you as a manager :). That person is probably complaning to you (manager) most of the time.

    Either way it’s hard to work with both types. Even though I think there are skills (almost) everyone can learn, but being a leader is a skill that comes very naturally to some individuals and those are the real leaders and it’s probably a pleasure to work with and for them.

  4. Alan Page says:

    I’m lucky in that I have a lot of respect for everyone I work with (I suppose it’s an advantage of working in the org I work in).

    It’s been quite a while since I’ve had to deal with a situation of "demanded respect" myself, but it still pushes my buttons when I hear about it.

    I don’t know if it’s harder on me because I’m a manager – my "managerness" is a sort of a time-bound and temporary side-effect of my current position (I suppose I should come up with an explanation about that topic some day).

    Thanks again for the comments.

  5. Gareth says:

    Humility always goes a very long way in earning respect, especially after making a mistake. A simple "I’m sorry" can change everything.

  6. anantsri says:

    I agree that respect should be earned. But, people should not focus on earning respect. Instead should focus on giving their best on day to day things. Respect will follow.

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