Leaders with a clear sense of purpose are far more likely to be effective and gain the respect of those they lead. Seeking to gain respect prior to communicating a clear sense of purpose is misguided and unlikely to succeed.
In a recent New York Times opinion piece titled “Men Need Purpose more than ‘Respect,’” David French wrote about the crisis in the rise in suicides, drug overdoses and education achievement gaps for men in America. Some men claim they feel disrespected because women are not treating them the way men were back in the 1950s. French contends that men need to find purpose before they can find respect. And that this “quest for respect can sometimes undermine the sense of purpose that will help make them whole.”
“What men need is not for others to do things for them,” wrote French. “They need to do things for others: for spouses, for children, for family and friends and colleagues.”
I couldn’t help but think how this idea of purpose before respect applies to both men and women in leadership positions in the workplace. You can’t get hired or promoted into a leadership position and simply demand respect. Respect needs to be earned. Unless you’re in the military or another government position where respect is more of a command, it’s necessary to demonstrate that you are worthy of respect in all your interactions.
To do this it takes an ability to clearly articulate where you are going and instill confidence in people that you are the right person to lead them. The way you show up can greatly determine your influence. How you show up includes your integrity, humility, empathy, and communication style. By articulating your purpose and modeling the behaviors you want to see in your people, you are acting in a way others will then respect.
“Virtuous purpose is worth more than any other person’s conditional and unreliable respect,” continues French. “It is rooted in service and sacrifice, not entitlement. What we do for others is infinitely more rewarding than what we ask them to do for us.”
This is essentially the model of servant leadership, which was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay he wrote in 1970. Servant leadership is grounded in the belief that the most effective leaders strive to serve others rather than accrue power or take control. These others can be customers, partners, fellow employees, or the community.
Leaders who demonstrate servant leadership include such luminaries as Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s hard to imagine any of these great leaders without a clear sense of purpose.
Whether you are in a leadership position now or striving to get into one, keep in mind that respect needs to be earned. It won’t come automatically with a new job title. Instead, you need to model the behaviors that deserve respect, and then articulate a sense of purpose so people feel you can effectively lead them. When others feel you are an effective leader, you will receive well-earned respect.