Respect for People
The most successful leaders offer people respect. Rodney Dangerield, a comedian in the 1970s and 1980s, was famous for a routine he developed that focused on the phrase “got no respect.” We all laughed, for many reasons, but perhaps most often because at some point in our lives we have all suffered from a lack of respect. We all want respect from others. When
1 Bridget Bero and Alana Kuhlman, “Teaching Ethics to Engineers: Ethical Decision Making Parallels the Engineering Design Process,” Science and Engineering Ethics Journal 1, no. 3 (2011): 597–605. certain individuals do not respect us, we will not respond well to the requirement to follow their direction.
Leaders get respect, not by asking for it, but by earning it. Respect is what role model leaders give to others, and they expect others to reciprocate by respecting them. There is a familiar adage: “The best way to get power is to give it to others.” This is as true for respect as it is for power. Leaders show respect for people in their organization by trusting them to work diligently towards the goals, objectives, and vision of the future state as it has been described to them. Once goals have been well articulated and communicated and accepted, leaders trust people to do the good and right things to achieve them.
Kalev Pugi called me into his ofice one day and told me that we needed to create a new pump design to make a step change in an important polymer-handling process. I told him that it would require a signiicant, perhaps major innovation. He replied, “Let me know what resources you need, and you will get them, except for more time. Then let me know when you get the job done.” The result was achieved in a different way than Kalev expected, but we let him know when the problem was solved. He was pleased – he was purposeful, he had no problem with different methods, and he had great respect for people.
Leaders understand that people want – indeed, need – to be trusted to do the good and right things. They also know that people want to be held accountable for the results of their work. Holding people to account for results is a mark of respect for their capacity to do the good and right things. For role model leaders, the ideal situation is one in which there is mutual respect for and from people who are working collectively to achieve a better situation for all. This mutual respect is achieved when everyone in the organization is engaged in high-performance work within a high-performance work system. High-performance work is realized when people work together to solve problems, respecting one another's abilities, motives, and spirit. Highperformance workers expect their leaders and managers to trust them to do the work; to present them with goals, strategies, and a vision; and to provide them with opportunities to learn the necessary capabilities to do the work effectively. High-performance workers then expect to be held accountable for their high-performance results. They expect their role model leaders to do different work than they do, but also expect them to work to the same standards of excellence, to learn continuously, and to get out-
standing results as they inluence and inspire others.
There are people who have squandered the opportunity to earn others' respect. These people have done things to others or to themselves that
cause enough harm that showing respect towards them afterwards is dificult if not impossible. Many of us, unfortunately, have had the experience of losing respect for someone.
Unfortunately, I have experienced a few instances when talented engineers lost the respect of others in the organization. Those situations almost always involved people taking credit for technical advances that they had not earned. Often, the cause was emotional or mental pressure on the individual. A scientist I knew for many years was under personally imposed pressure to succeed after a series of failures in his research. He took a great idea for the design of an experiment from a technologist on his team. The experiment was completed and opened the door for a successful project and a patentable process, and he was highly praised within the organization. Only later did I discover where the idea had actually come from and that this scientist had not given that source the credit for it. This caused me and many others to lose respect for that individual. When I discussed it with the scientist, he admitted to the failing and corrected the perception in the organization. He had shown respect for others, albeit later than would have been ideal.