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Respect, Trust, Loyalty… "Intangibles." Seriously?

It disgusts me when people lump respect, trust and loyalty in with the “soft” aspects of business and leadership. It’s sick that so many people call these “intangibles.”

Before we go any further, ask yourself these important questions:

  • What can you possibly accomplish without the respect, trust and loyalty of the people you serve?

  • How effective are you as a leader if you don’t have the respect, trust and loyalty of the people who rely on your leadership?

Respect, trust––and loyalty. These are a leaders most valuable assets.

Sadly, most leadership development programs spend little time on how to cultivate these assets. Sure, they talk about them and talk about how important they are, but that’s usually it.

Stories, case studies, data about the importance of respect, trust and loyalty. The books are full of these. That’s fine. It helps––to a certain point.

But how do you do it? How do you actually earn the respect, trust and loyalty of the people we serve. It actually boils down to just two disciplines…

#1 Give first.

Leaders are supposed to lead, right? That means you go first. If you want respect––give it. Trust? Loyalty? Same. Give it first…

And don’t expect a damn thing in return. Seriously!

Manage your expectations. No matter how generous and sincere you are––you’re setting yourself up for disaster if you expect a return. Some people will give you everything in return and more––others simply don’t give a damn.

We’ve just uncovered one of life’s greatest mysteries. With respect, trust, loyalty––and we could through in love and kindness too; there is absolutely no guarantee that you will receive in kind what you give. However…

Throw out some hatred, disrespect, contempt or cruelty and see what comes back! Times ten!

I don’t pretend to know why this is the truth. I’ve learned to accept it.

When people return your respect, trust and loyalty––appreciate it. Just accept the fact that these will seldom be returned to your full satisfaction. Be grateful when it is!

#2 Walk the walk.

One of the most fundamental strategies of the Sensei Leader is this:

“Be confident––yet humble. Lead by example.”

I hope we agree we need to give first. Well––we need to keep on giving. Always.

Building these assets is a life-long discipline. Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The rest of the journey is just a lot more single steps.

Let’s break it down…

People respect and trust people who are confident. Let that confidence get out of hand and you’ve got arrogance. And I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. We tend not to respect arrogant leaders and we usually don’t trust them either.

Gallup did a wonderful poll a few years ago to determine exactly what people want from their leaders:

  • Compassion

  • Trust

  • Stability

  • Hope

Powerful list.

Arrogant people are often unpredictable. They can fly off the handle when things don’t go their way. Stability is not something we usually expect from arrogant people.

And we don’t know if they’re always acting in our best interest––or theirs. Compassion is not the first thing that comes to mind when we see an arrogant leader. Selfishness is the more likely trait, and that certainly doesn’t inspire trust.

Arrogance destroys hope.

You’ve got to “lead by example” Walk the walk. If you sincerely want to inspire respect, trust and loyalty––you’ve got to model the behavior you expect from others.

Again––no guarantees. But if you’re an arrogant, self-centered creep you almost will certainly attract other arrogant self-centered creeps. If that’s what you want––move along. Nothing for you here.

This is painfully simple. None of it is easy.

There are times when you’re going to put out your best efforts and at least for some people, it’s just not going to be good enough. Once in a while respect is met with disdain or indifference, trust is violated and loyalty is not returned.

More Lao Tzu:

“Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained.”

And you’re going to make mistakes. You’re still going to disappoint, fall short and even get people angry once in a while. Mama never said leadership was easy. My Mama never said that anyway!

People don’t expect you to be perfect. They expect you to be compassionate, courageous and wise. They respect you when you own up to your mistakes. They appreciate your courage when you do what’s right––especially when it’s not appreciated. They are loyal when they know you’ve got their backs too.


#1 Give first.

#2 Walk the walk.

That’s how you earn respect, trust and loyalty.

Expect nothing in return. When you let go of your expectations, you usually get more than you expected.

“The wise man does not lay up his treasures. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own.” ~Lao Tzu

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