Respect is an interesting term – one that I think is misunderstood. Certainly over my time as a teacher, and now leader, my view on respect has changed. What hasn’t changed is the importance that I place on it. I’ll try to break it down.
Respect has many phrases linked to it. Respect your elders. Respect the rules. Respect the game. I’m not saying that I disagree with these statements, but I do think that they can be dangerous as they are so often misinterpreted.
One of the biggest dangers is blind respect. The giving of respect with no reason or understanding of why it is being given. Some of the statements above could imply this. How can you respect the rules if the rules are grossly unfair? Respect should not be something that is given to people without due cause. It is something that needs to be earned through give and take. For respect to be given to you, you need to give it out too.
This can be something that is so often overlooked and I think a particular risk in leadership. There can be an assumption that everyone should respect the Headteacher for example, but I don’t think this is the case. At every turn, leaders should be respectful of their position, the people they work with and themselves. Only by doing this can they build and earn respect within their organisations. It needs to be done constantly and consistently, built and rebuilt over time and never taken for granted. Every time a new employee begins, there should be a period where leaders earn the respect of their new colleague. It should not be taken for granted, no matter who you are or what others think of you.
So how can you build respect? It comes from everywhere. It comes from noticing the small things with people. It comes from testing the temperature and understanding the community. It comes from listening, talking and acting.
To earn people’s respect, you need to know them and they need to know you. You will gain respect by learning about them and understanding their challenges, fears and strengths, and by supporting them. This feeds into knowing and understanding the needs of everyone around you. You can gain respect by seeing the bigger picture, but even more by seeing how everyone fits into the bigger picture.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can earn respect through your actions. As a leader, this doesn’t mean to stand around and bark orders demanding people do as you ask. Quite the opposite. It requires you to listen – really listen – to those around you. By doing this, you can earn their respect as they will feel connected. You need to choose your words carefully, as the more you are respected, the more weight they will carry. Go to heavy to soon and you will lose them, be too soft, and respect may be replaced for being liked. How you act will also determine how you are respected. You need to be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I know that when I started at my school as a Headteacher, I felt that I had no respect as a teacher, purely because no one there had ever seen me teach. To earn my respect, I had to practice what I preached. It is also important to show vulnerabilities. After all, we are all human. You will not lose respect by showing that you are vulnerable too, but gain it.
Earlier this year, I attended a conference, where the keynote speaker was Mike Barton, the Police Chief in Durham. He was inspirational (and very funny) and one of his closing lines is one that will stick with me. He said ‘At work, you want to be respected and liked. If you can’t be both, be respected’.