When Your People Don’t Respect You – Part I
Recently I was coaching a young leader who had just taken on a new leadership position. I asked her what current challenge she would like to overcome in her new leadership role. She thought about it for a few seconds and said, “I need to be more assertive.”
As we talked more, I recognized this concern. It was a very prominent feeling I had at the beginning of my own leadership journey. Now it comes up much less frequently. I believe that what she described as a “need to be more assertive” is often a feeling many leaders have when they feel that they are not respected.
Many years ago, my main concern as a leader was that some people simply would not listen to me. It was in the way they reacted (or did not react) when I said something. It could be a delay of a few seconds in response to me as if to say, “you don’t have power over me.” Or it might come across in a look of mild disgust that implied, “why would we want to do that?”
I would worry: “What should I do if I tell them to do something, and they don’t do it?” Or, “Some of my people just will not submit to my authority.”
I remember these feelings. It did not feel good to be in that position. Sometimes I dreaded going to work. Sometimes I had heated run-ins with people who reported to me, but would openly defy my directives. And, then I felt like I had no choice but to be more assertive and “show them who’s boss!”
Thank God those days are over. I did not enjoy leadership back then!
If you are at a point in your leadership journey where this is an issue for you, please allow me share a few principles with you in this series. I hope that what I have learned along the way will be a resource and encouragement to you.
- Leadership is won one-on-one. This is my secret to leadership. Period. Bar none. I do not lead teams or organizations. I lead people. I lead leaders. And I believe that real leadership happens when I am with them, alone. If I were to give you only one piece of advice in leadership, it would be this: Leadership is won one-on-one.
Let me explain…
You must – and I mean you really must – give time to people on a one-on-one basis if you aim to lead them well. I recommend that you start with 30 minutes per week, maybe even one hour. During this time you need to listen to them, hear them, and make sure they are on board with you. Build the relationship, sell your vision, grab their heart, let them see yours. Be transparent, be vulnerable, and invite them to do the same.
This can only happen one-on-one. I am not implying that you will be able to get to that deep level from the first meeting. You do that as the time becomes right. With some people, there is such an instant connection that all of the above happens quickly. With others it takes longer. With a few it never happens! This brings me to my next point…
- You cannot reach some people – deal with it. Now let me be very vulnerable with you. You know how passionate I am about leadership. I have a blog and podcast about it, I am writing a book about it, I go to every conference I can find about it, I hold and teach conferences. And here is the truth…
Some people I simply cannot connect with,
I cannot reach, and I simply cannot lead.
And sometimes these people do things that bother me – yes, even bordering on disrespect (although I don’t view it as such anymore). So my goals with these people are to:
- Improve my leadership so I can reach them.
- Improve my relationship with them.
- Avoid confronting them.
- Have them work with someone else who they do connect with. (Although this can be dangerous – you don’t want to dump people on others.)
- Remove them from my team. If all else fails, this is a significant consideration. (However, this should be rare if you make it a practice to hire the right person, and do your job as a servant leader.)
My hope as you have read part one of this series is that you will:
- Identify moments in your leadership when you feel tempted to be more assertive in order to force things to work.
- Invest in one-on-one relationships with those you lead.
- Be encouraged that occasionally you simply will not connect with a few people. And, it is healthy to end these relationships in a respectful way.
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