Aretha Franklin is one of the best singers ever. So when she sings, I listen. Especially to her biggest hit.
I love the conviction behind the lyric – it’s respect that she wants, and it’s respect that she’ll get. Or she’ll walk.
And within the meaning of that song is an extremely valuable leadership lesson. In fact, I would say that it’s one of the absolute “must dos”.
But it’s not about YOU getting respect. It’s about them.
It’s about the people you lead. They need to be respected. And more importantly, their WORK needs to be respected.
Implicit in this respect is the realization that every single role in a company or organization is important to the mission of that company or organization.
No matter what it is.
The leader needs to acknowledge this, in their words and in their deeds. A leader cannot “look down” on any person or task. A leader, by respecting the work, and explaining how that work makes a difference, puts the person behind the work in a much better position to succeed.
Why? Aretha knows it. She sings it.
“I’m about to give you all of my money
And all I’m askin’ in return, honey
Is to give me my profits
When you get home”
Your teammates put in a hard days’ effort (“giving you the money”), and beyond the paycheck, they want that work to be recognized and appreciated. Those are the REAL profits that Aretha sings about. And if they don’t get them, it’s a good bet they’ll eventually walk.
What are some of the “words and deeds” that show respect? First, care enough to KNOW their jobs, even in a general sense. To use my corporate experience at a cable company, KNOW that a cable installer has to work in all kind of weather conditions, and in all kind of home conditions – including crawling around on hands and knees in 105 degree attic crawlspaces, or climbing telephone poles in minus-10 temperatures.
Or knowing that a call center agent puts on a headset at 8AM, and aside from breaks and lunch, the calls NEVER stop. It’s one after the other. Not a lot of time to regroup from an angry customer, or a complicated problem.
Second, DO as many of these jobs as you can. One of the best things I ever did was to go on “ride alongs” with the technicians, or put on the headset myself and take calls (my goodness, that was one of the scariest moments of my life, just getting those “beeps” in my ear over and over and over again).
Understand the work, do (at least some of) the work – and then, EXPRESS this respect, appreciation, and understanding, in the context of setting processes, goals, and expectations.
In effect, saying, “We value what you do. We understand what you do. We know the difference it makes. And we keep that in mind for every rule, process, procedure, protocol, or directive we ask you to follow”
That is respect.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T . I found out what it means to me, Aretha.
(And thanks to Liz Strauss for the inspiration, as always)