Home Best Practices “I don’t care if people don’t like me as long as they respect me!”

“I don’t care if people don’t like me as long as they respect me!”

Respect is a key element of leadership.  That is, it will be extremely difficult for a leader to lead without earning the respect of his or her followers.  Followers may do what the leader demands because they must in order to earn a paycheck, but their work will lack energy, and it will lack commitment.  So how does a would-be leader earn this all-important respect?  There are lots of different leadership styles that can bring respect to the leader, but there’s one that I believe is the most certain and most gratifying path to respect.  To learn more about that one leadership style, please read below.

“I don’t care if people don’t like me as long as they respect me!”

That has been a time-honored mantra among some leaders.  Maybe you’ve heard someone say it.  Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, but I hope not because it’s total, unadulterated BS.

Let’s face it, as human beings, we want to be liked.  You can try to deny it if you want to, but it’s true.  The desire to be liked and accepted is buried deep in our DNA and we couldn’t get rid of it if we wanted to.  Think about how it would feel to be in a position where you’re surrounded by people who dislike you for eight hours every day.  How long do you think you’d last?  So when I hear someone utter the above BS, I chalk it up to someone who is behaving like a jerk and trying to justify that behavior.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anyone I dislike and yet still respect.  That doesn’t mean we have to be best buddies, or that we can’t disagree, or that we can’t even annoy each other from time to time, but if your overall persona is not likeable . . . if I can’t find something in you I find admirable, some character trait that I want to emulate, then I don’t see how I can respect you.

So what leadership style is most likely to produce respect?  I believe it is “servant leadership.”

Robert K. Greenleaf  coined the phrase “servant leadership” in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader,” but the concept has been around for millennia.  Perhaps you’re familiar with the biblical admonition, “He who would be first must be last.”  The idea is that, whether you’re a CEO or a department manager or a line supervisor, your job is to serve the people for whom you are responsible, not the other way around.  Your job is to train, coach, mentor, discipline, support, and in all other ways work for the success of the people entrusted to you.  And you know what?  If you make all your people successful, guess who else is successful?

A servant leader is also focused on the “greater good.”  That means she places the welfare of her people above her own, and it means he places the best interest of the overall company above the parochial interests of his department.  On the other hand, when a leader sacrifices people for his or her own selfish interests, trust and respect . . . and therefore the ability to lead . . . are gone.

And finally, the servant leader aims to spawn other servant leaders.  By modeling the behavior and using appropriate training, a CEO should make servant leaders of his or her direct reports, who in turn teach servant leadership concepts to their direct reports, and so on until everyone in the organization with leadership responsibilities is carrying them out as a servant leader.

To me, servant leadership is a more authentic, comfortable, and ultimately rewarding leadership style than any alternatives.  As human beings, we like to serve, don’t we?  That’s why we volunteer our time to charitable organizations, that’s why we help little old ladies cross the street, and why we help a complete stranger whose car is stuck.  We like to serve because it makes us feel good about ourselves.  We get a feel good rush that we can’t get any other way.  At the end of a long workday, don’t you think you’d feel pretty good about yourself knowing that you helped your people take a few more steps toward success rather than simply exercised your right as their boss to impose your will on them?

This isn’t about being wishy-washy or soft or tolerant of poor performance.  You can be a strict disciplinarian and a demanding boss without damaging the trust and respect of your people as long as they know your focus is on their success and on the greater good.  After all, how can you dislike someone who is actively helping you succeed and who is willing to put your welfare above his or her own?

Serve well and serve often.

For more on servant leadership, visit the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership at

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