Respect and Engagement
Why I Do (Or Do Not) Respect My Manager
By William Long
Sometimes when I’m updating a resume or looking back on my employment history, I can’t help but think that I’ve been in high school for a decade, and here’s why: From the summer jobs that stretched from junior year in high school to super-senior in college, and from three years doing what felt like volunteer labor, I’ve changed jobs nearly every year. I’m still looking for the right fit. This is not a bad thing, by any means, but as a result, I have come to work alongside many people in management positions in many different types of work environments.
Fortunately, I can say that I’ve never been saddled by a manager who was overtly cruel, sadistic, psychotic, supremely apathetic or criminally absent from the workplace, but of course we’ve all heard stories to that tune. Some of my managers have certainly been better than others: I’ve worked for people who can and cannot communicate, collaborate, receive or give feedback and criticism, and for people with whom I also developed friendship or else learned to guard my tongue against all casualness. So what are the differences between a manager who can achieve the compliance of his or her subordinates, and someone who not only demands but earns whole-heartedly the respect of everyone in the office? From the eyes of someone in their mid-to-late twenties who, while possessing a great deal of job diversity, has never climbed very high up the management ladder, here are some reasons as to whether or not a manager has ever earned my respect.
First of all, respect is a two-way street, and there is no way around that. My favorite bosses — and when I say ‘favorite’ I mean the people who inspired me, drove me to excel in the workplace, and allowed me to come into my own as a member of the professional team — were people that respected me first. Even in the first week of work with any given organization, or before I could reasonably describe to anyone what my job position was, they respected me in that they acknowledged that I was now a part of their team, and that I had the capacity to learn, to contribute, and to add some facet or dynamic on one way or another.
My favorite bosses – were the people that respected me first
Having worked so many entry-level jobs, naturally I have been given entry-level responsibilities and earned entry-level pay. That’s no problem; I recognize that everyone starts somewhere. Problems arose in that equation, however, when managers have pigeon-holed me as being someone with no talent, ambition, or ability to improve myself. ‘Entry-level,’ ‘in training,’ and ‘new to this field’ are synonymous. Managers who come to view those terms as being synonymous with ‘unable to get better work’ or ‘incapable of greater responsibilities’. As mentioned, respect is what you put into it. I’ve had roles which didn’t pay me very much, and managers who treated me that way. I have also had roles which didn’t pay me very much, and managers who were appreciative of the fact that I could operate on the lower rungs of the professional ladder. There is a huge difference.
How a manager views him or herself within the wheelhouse of the organization is also critical as to whether or not they will have the respect of the people who work for them. Keep in mind that what I’m talking about has very little to do with anyone’s — manager or subordinate — personality. But a manager needs to know, or at least recognize, that they are the boss. This doesn’t mean that lashes or mirrored sunglasses [what is this reference?] need to be employed, or that friendliness needs to be sacrificed. In several instances, most often with people who worked in ‘middle management,’ I have worked for people who thought it was more important to be friends. Now, don’t think of me as a callous, cold-hearted guy — what I mean by this is that they didn’t hold themselves up to the position of a person who manages others: they wanted to be one of us, one of the guys, meet us at our level, where we presumably, crack jokes and exchange witty banter as we water the plants, or haul anything that needs hauling. We never ridiculed the manager for it, or think any less of him as a human, but at the same time, he would sometimes need to remind us that he was in charge. We ended up respecting him more as a guy who knew the good sandwich spots, as opposed to respecting him as our boss.
How a manager views him or herself within the wheelhouse of the organization
is also critical as to whether or not they will have the respect of the people who work for them.
In all of my mottled work history, the supervisors that have inspired me to excel in the workplace have been extraordinary supervisors. They knew everything, they knew everyone, they were in several places at once and when it came down to it, they were the bosses. They knew the goals, they knew the work and they communicated both. One manager in particular, an executive director of a non-profit, was supremely friendly and personable, and if we went out for a drink after work, she was a friend. But during the day, she was the arbiter of our professional cosmos. She set the expectations. Hers was the word of final approval, hers was the thumb to be held up or pointed down on any idea, and so long as we did right by her, we could count on the fact that she would do right by us. We knew what to do; we knew how well we were doing. We were challenged and we learned. It was comforting, inspiring, and highly motivating to work for this woman, and in turn, there was no question as to whether or not I respected her. It had simply become a fact that I did.
Some Additional Resources on Respect & Engagement
I feel strongly that we need to establish respect as the all-important ‘foundational fundamental’ upon which the other fundamentals are built. The other fundamentals are like lights on a Christmas tree. Respect is the tree itself. Every time we confront conflict, clarify goals and tasks, provide meaningful feedback and ‘expect excellence’ we are also sending unintentional, subtle, subliminal messages about our respect level. And based on your ’77 percent of employees are not engaged’ statistic, we’re very often sending negative messages. We’re using the right fundamentals (confronting, communicating, expecting), but those processes are so corrupted, we’re getting wrong results.”
Experts have written about generational differences regarding respect. Baby Boomers, for example, are more likely to respect someone because of their position of authority. Millennials—the fastest growing group in the workforce—are less likely to respect authority “just because.” Instead, they respect leaders who are caring, approachable, and aware.
This means if you ever dreamt of saying, “Why? Because I’m the boss,” you can promptly kiss that dream goodbye.