Respect: Why It Is Important for Leaders


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I was at an airport once, waiting at the gate. And while we were standing on the gangway to get on the plane, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation.

There were two ladies in front of me whose conversation went something like this:

“Yes, the new executive gave a speech the other day, and then he said he now wants respect. And that things would not go on as before. After all, he’s the smartest person in the room. He wants to be involved in everything, too, giving helpful tips, and no one should do anything without his input anymore. He wants to make the decisions, and respect is what he now demands.”

It went back and forth like that.

The word respect came up a lot.

One phrase from one of the women was, “Seems to me, your boss is from the 19th century.”

Of course, that can’t be, can it? I could go into many things about the conversation now, but I think respect is very important. Respect is fascinating. That was really a good example. Just listening to it, you could understand that respect is a synonym for many qualities:

  • Recognition
  • Politeness
  • Reverence
  • Esteem

Respect seems to be important.

But respect can also have a threatening tone. In this conversation, it did indeed have a threatening ring because the supervisor demanded respect simply because he was a supervisor.

I’ve worked with a manager like that before.

I was this manager’s supervisor, and after I sought a conversation, this manager told me she wasn’t particularly respectful with one of her co-workers: 

“Yes, this co-worker, he needs to be taught respect. He has to respect me. After all, I’m older, and my parents taught me that you have to respect your elders.”

Yes, you have to respect your elders; that’s true. But younger people and people of the same age also need respect. 

Somehow, I have a different view of respect. You have to respect all people, whether they have a university degree or an apprenticeship, whether they’re young or old.

There’s no reason to make a distinction at all.

If you think you don’t have to respect the cleaning person, then I recommend you try working in an office that doesn’t get cleaned for more than two months, or use the toilets that haven’t been cleaned for two months. Then you will see what an insane task these people perform for you if the basic principle of respect has not already reached you anyway.

By the way, I actually parted ways with the above-mentioned person, who treated her subordinate so disrespectfully, in my working life. She is one of two people where the desire to separate came from me.

How do you get respected? 

Respect is important, but you first have to consider many values in respectful interaction. I’ll put it this way: what you have to do to get respect is to give respect. 

You have to allow yourself to be criticized.

That sounds strange: why should I allow criticism to get respect? I speak from my own experience. To be respected, you must take constructive criticism positively. You must not be offended.

Of course, criticism also gives you the chance to improve your skills and expand your knowledge. But if you react defensively to criticism or are immediately offended, then your co-workers,—the people around you—will not respect you. 

Believe me, I know. Twenty, 25 years ago, I wasn’t very good with criticism. 

I had to learn that part the hard way. Since I always try to take any criticism positively, I’ve gotten a completely different standing. That doesn’t mean that I implement all criticism, though. I don’t always agree with it, but I take it positively.


Every company needs people who are actively involved in what’s going on. If you:

  • suggest ideas
  • take responsibility
  • make decisions fearlessly

Everything goes down well. That not only goes down well with your boss, it also goes down well with your co-workers. It appeases your colleagues. They respect you.

Firmness: an extremely important quality

You must stand by your mistakes, your decisions, and your values. It’s better to be honest than to talk your way out of a bad decision.

Apologizing and lamenting is not a good idea. Stick to your point of view, even if it means going against the crowd.

Of course, you won’t necessarily make friends, because gaining respect doesn’t mean everyone will love you. The goal is not that all colleagues find you likable, only that they will have respect for you.

I wish you a successful day that includes respectful interaction with those around you.

Photo Istock

About the coach​

Kai Boyd has been a leader, trainer and facilitator since 1989. He supports leaders and their teams to work together effectively, trustfully and with ease. This involves each and everyone – in their respective roles and as people. Tailor-made formats and genuine attention enable potential to unfold and synergies to emerge.

The graduate industrial engineer, managing director and former management consultant knows the requirements of his clients from many perspectives. He works systemically, strength- and solution-oriented. Leading international teams as well as work and academic programs in the USA and the UK enable him to always contribute the international perspective.

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