Oswald Letter

Great leaders have R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Multi ethnic group architects working on plans at business boardroomby Dan Oswald

The other day, in a conversation about the recent U.S. presidential election, I mentioned that one of the ways I evaluate politicians is to consider whether I’d be willing to either work for the person or have the candidate work for me. It’s pretty simple—I want to work with people I respect.

I believe that the person I work for reflects on me because I’ve chosen to work for him. It’s a choice. And if I’m uncomfortable with his ethics, business decisions, or any other way he conducts himself, then I shouldn’t be working for him. And if I wouldn’t work for him, why would I want him to lead the country?

I also consider whether I would have the person work for me. If I’d be unwilling to hire a person because she lacked the requisite skills, temperament, or judgment, then why would I want her to be the leader of our nation?

It all comes down to respect for me. The definition of respect is “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” I want my leader to be someone I admire. Same goes for the people I work with.

So what do I expect from someone I respect? A lot. But here’s some of what it takes for me to admire a person:

“R” is for resourceful. I expect leaders to be resourceful. The old saying is, “No two problems are alike.” That means a leader needs to come up with creative solutions to new problems. That takes resourcefulness. If a leader can’t think outside the box or be creative, he’ll be limited in what he can deliver.

“E” is for ethical. A leader needs to be ethical in her behavior. Too many people believe they can operate outside the lines. They are in a position of leadership and can bend the rules to their benefit, and then suddenly they’re making choices that are unethical. A true leader can operate within the rules and keep her morals intact while still being successful. True leaders demonstrate ethical behavior—consistently.

“S” is for self-aware. Too many so-called leaders have zero self-awareness. They don’t know that they talk too much and fail to listen to others. They think the way to be successful is to demonstrate that they’re the smartest person in the room. They have no room for the other important “S” for a leader—service—because that would require putting others before themselves. A strong leader understands his strengths AND his weaknesses. He knows how he can best contribute to the team because he is self-aware.

“P” is for passion. There are many P’s that I look for in a leader—patience, proactivity, and positivity among them—but nothing is more important than passion. Enthusiasm is contagious, and when a leader has passion for what she and her company are doing, people can’t help but get excited to follow her. They say, “Find something you love to do, and you won’t work a day in your life.” That’s very true, but it’s also accurate to say, “Find something you love to do, and others will want to work with you.” A leader with passion inspires others.

“E” is for empathy. A leader must be empathetic. The ability to understand the feelings of others allows a business leader to identify with what is driving employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Being able to “walk a mile in the shoes” of others makes a person a better leader because he can understand what others want and need. A leader can’t make a true connection with others without empathy.

“C” is for consistency. Like “P,” there are many “C” words that are important traits of a leader. A few that come to mind are courageous, committed, compassionate, and curious. All are fantastic traits of a leader, and I can make an argument for all of them, but some of the others are similar to traits that have already been mentioned. Consistency is a critical trait for any leader. People want and need to know how their leader is going to respond when things go bad. Wild swings in emotion or erratic behavior leave people wondering who is going to lead them. Consistency breeds confidence.

“T” is for trustworthiness. Above all else, people need to trust a person to follow her. It takes time (and consistency) to build trust. A leader must deliver, over and over again, in order to develop the trust of those around her. Ronald Reagan is famous for saying, “Trust but verify.” That’s sound advice, but a leader must also understand that people are looking for her to verify that she is worthy of their trust. If she is resourceful, ethical, self-aware, passionate, empathetic, and consistent, then the trust will come. But if she demonstrates that she is not capable of the above, she will never be trusted.

It takes an awful lot to earn the respect of others, but if you can demonstrate these traits, you’ll have people lining up to follow you.