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Lead With Respect

“It’s my way or the highway!”

We’ve all heard that expression. Many of us were unfortunate enough to work with a leader who would direct that phrase, or some variant, at us at some step in our professional careers, whether it came from a boss, a project team manager, or even a client.

These supervisors likely thought the deliverance of such a statement would convey boldness, decisiveness, and would motivate the team to “get with the program!”

When, in fact, hearing such statements quashed our morale and creativity, and damaged any team-spirit we may have been holding onto like a work-life balance preserver. Any project inspirations we had from that point on were likely left in the solitary confinement of our own thoughts. Why risk sharing an innovation when the leader will view it as a challenge to inflexible processes and authority? The highway… that doesn’t sound too good either.

How many dedicated, talented workers have left, or worse, “phoned it in”, on what was otherwise a good position or project but for an overbearing, disrespectful leader?

So, for those of you who would lead, pay attention:

Lead with Respect.

There are a whole host of attitudes that go hand in hand with that simple word: Respect. The broad scope of the definition may surprise you.

a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.

Respect for others isn’t merely polite talk. It’s blended heavily with genuine kindness, empathy, situational awareness, and humility. It’s listening and real communication. It’s your body language, showing that you’re motivated, caring, and engaged.

A great example of showing respect for others is taking due consideration of their time and resources. No one wants to spend time doing a task only to find out it wasn’t necessary or the work was already being done by another team member within the project. So, before assigning a task, make sure to invest your own efforts to first ensure that the work is necessary, not being duplicated, and that you’re asking the right person(s) with the most applicable skills, tools, bandwidth, and experience for the role. Be ready to provide training, personal assistance, and breathing room – life cannot grow in a vacuum, nor can it grow in a pressure cooker.

Make certain that everyone you work with knows that they aren’t an island. They are not alone and can always seek assistance, starting with help from you. It’s not Jane’s work. It’s not John’s work. It’s project work.

When the task is completed and the goal is reached, show respect by giving recognition to those team-members that made it happen. Leave yourself out of any rolling credits – and be sure to thank and give due respect to any contractors that helped.

We’re all too familiar with the “my way or the highway” leader – a leader who believes that authority should be absolute and is not to be questioned lest the offenders find themselves packing up in file boxes.

Now consider a leader who truly practices the principles of respect. And how the team members of that fortunate relationship benefit from having a strong leader who appreciates initiative, ideas, and innovation rather than feeling threatened by such. When personnel know they are trusted and respected, they are inspired to think of creative ways to help the project. More importantly, they have better morale and are happy to share their ideas and enthusiasm. Even the rote tasks become less burdensome. Shared pain is diminished. Shared joy is increased.

It’s also important to recognize that kindness is not weakness. Projects are certainly results-driven, and goals must be accomplished. But progress is driven by people. Life issues, accidents, health, and the passage of time create enough hardships for people. Treat them with kindness. You’ll find that when you need to ask (ask your team for their help and provide guidance, don’t tell them what to do) for extraordinary results or creative ideas, you have a group of empowered, high-achievers.

One last thought to leave you with: being a leader isn’t a title or a position. It’s action, it’s example, it’s one life influencing another, and we each have a leadership duty in various situations in our personal and professional affairs. It’s for all of us, not just the appointed bosses. Likewise, respect, in its full meaning and best practice, flows between people going both ways, intersecting, and interchanging to the enhancement and edification of all.

Now, isn’t that a better highway analogy?


By: Bill Sullivan, Project Manager, TurnKey Logistics, LLC

May 31, 2023

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