“Do you even lift, bro?”
This question is often trotted out lightheartedly on social media when someone’s buddy has clearly been spending a lot of time at the gym. As I was thinking about this week’s post, that expression popped into my head. On so many occasions we meet folks in service-oriented occupations who really don’t seem to enjoy interacting with others. It makes us want to look at them, raise an eyebrow, and ask:
“Do you even like people, bro?”
During my career in politics and the military, I’ve collected innumerable stories of encounters that revealed whether a leader truly liked people, enjoyed their company, and ultimately respected them.
I will always remember being reintroduced to Sen. Voinovich when I began working for him on a PMI detail assignment in 2001. We were standing in the Governmental Affairs Committee hearing room, where that panel had just wrapped up a meeting, and our staff director presented me to him. Without missing a beat, the senator recognized me and recalled the circumstances of a previous engagement in my hometown…in 1995. Here was a man who had met thousands of people in his public service career but could place where he had met someone he had no particular reason to remember from six years earlier.
Several years ago, I traveled on a monthly basis with a fellow naval officer to our drill weekend duty station in Michigan. We would usually stay at the same hotel and for a year I watched as my friend would greet by name, as soon as we walked in the door, the front desk staff. He remembered them from the last time – every time – because he took an interest in them, respected them, and valued them.
There are also examples we may not want to follow. I can recall the time a former statewide elected official whose hand I reached out to shake snapped, “I don’t want the stench of Washington on me!” This was a rather odd comment coming from someone who had served in Congress for nearly two decades, but more importantly it was blatantly disrespectful and gratuitously mean – as it would have been even if I hadn’t been a sitting state legislator.
More recently, I worked with a fellow presidential appointee from a sister agency whose abusive behavior included liberally lobbing f-bombs in otherwise professional meetings, weaponizing email to undermine colleagues, and spreading grotesque distortions of reality to advance a predetermined agenda. This “my way or the highway” approach exemplified someone who simply did not respect others.
Why does any of this matter? Because we presently find ourselves in a trough on the sine wave of civility. It seems as if many of the people we reward with positions of public trust have these venomous traits in common. But are those officials not simply a reflection of society writ large? Are we not devolving into tribes that don’t seem to want to engage in civil dialogue with those who disagree with us on one issue or another?
Perhaps, an antidote to this trend is injecting a bit more respect for others into our day-to-day lives. For those of us who find we occasionally fall short in our obligation to show deference to others, regardless of their relative station in life, a question we might pause to ask is:
Do my words and deeds demonstrate that I value other people?
With that question in mind, what are some steps we can take to evaluate our own respectfulness – and, if needed, to improve our application of this essential leadership quality? Here are three thoughts:
1. Start with self-respect.
Regardless of upbringing and experiences, even the most well-balanced people have an occasional pang of self-doubt. The problem occurs when such feelings of inadequacy are projected on others to belittle them. Like so many solutions already offered in this series, a first step when we exhibit behavior out of alignment with what we know to be right is to take out a figurative mirror. In this instance, it may be that pride, ego, or hubris have become poor substitutes for healthy confidence, dignity, and self-respect. When you display disrespect for someone else, pause and consider whether it is actually a quarrel you have with yourself.
2. Focus on the other person’s needs.
Is it really that important to be right every time or to get the last word? How much are you giving up in building deep, sustainable relationships if your primary emphasis is on what’s in it for you. Winning at any cost is not only disrespectful but counterproductive. Apply the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) and what Dr. Tony Alessandra calls the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way theywant to be treated.” Let the other person have her say. Don’t cut off people in conversation. Simply be gracious to others, even if they don’t seem to deserve it at that moment. What are the chances you might occasionally need another’s grace?
3. Apply the principle equally.
One of the best metrics for determining your respect quotient is observing your behavior toward different types of people. Do you have the same feelings of esteem for the waitress who refills your coffee mug and your fellow colleague in the executive suite? How about for someone who looks different than you or lives in a less prestigious community? True respect is blind to these factors. We treat others most respectfully when we remember each person, regardless of circumstances or outward appearance, is made in God’s image.
Today’s post is the fourth of a seven-part series on the characteristics of a Grindstone-SHARPENed leader. You can locate other Our Weekly Grind posts here. If you find our content compelling, edifying, or stimulating (or perhaps all three!), please sign up for our email list, which includes access to Saturday Sharpening, a free, weekly compendium of curated leadership links offered exclusively to subscribers.