Respect.  It is an emotion that equates to  appreciating someone for who they are—the integrity they display, what they stand for, and what they bring to the team.  Ultimately, if you have respect for someone, you can work with them to deliver on a common goal. What many people cannot quite figure out is how to respect someone who hasn’t “earned it.”  Because in my experience, respect for someone isn’t an emotion you can fake very well.

Maybe it is a supervisor who hasn’t held your position but tells you how to do the job and demands you do it “his way.”  Maybe it is a person who did do your job previously and failed, and yet for some reason they were still promoted to be your supervisor. It could even be someone who simply isn’t in tune with the business but wants to give out direction that is questionable at best.  In other words, these folks have the title, they have the job, but they don’t have the “street credibility” to earn the respect of the team.  If you are in a situation where you have to work with/for someone you don’t respect, how do you handle it?

First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that not being able to respect someone isn’t about being friends.  There is no obligation that comes with respect other than having a solid working relationship with the individual.  Friendship isn’t synonymous with respect.  If that is a concern for you, let it go and move past it.

Second, work to pinpoint why you currently do not respect the individual.  Realize that it is ok to admit to yourself any reason you have for not respecting someone.  There is no “wrong” reason, it just has to be the real reason.  Once you pinpoint it, admit it.  Call it out to yourself.  Do not allow the reason to remain vague in your mind.

Now that you know the reason, figure out what it will take to resolve that reason.  Determine the actions, behaviors, or contributions he needs to make in order to earn your respect.  In doing this, be fair.  If it was your favorite member of the team or your favorite supervisor from previous positions, what would you want to see?

Once you have this established, start to actively look for the behaviors that earn your respect.  In other words, give them a chance to earn your respect today and moving forward.  Many times when we take these steps, we realize we are holding on to past behaviors or interactions.  We have to let go of the past in order to move forward.  Allow for developmental growth in your supervisors and peers, just as they do for you.

Finally, establish a timeframe to observe the growth the leader is going through in order to be able to say within yourself that you can respect him.  Now,  we aren’t going to give someone forever to earn our respect, but we aren’t going to expect it to happen in a week either.  Establish a reasonable timeframe in your mind and when you get to that point, assess your observations and determine how you feel.  Hopefully through this exercise you will see the growth and leadership potential the hiring manager saw when this person was placed in their role.  As a result,  you will start to build a foundation of respect for him.  Once you see the behaviors, you have solved your concern.  You have started to respect him because the leader has earned it.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where you are struggling to respect someone and you aren’t seeing the leadership behavior expected, you have to decide if you can have an honest dialogue with this individual.  The dialogue needs to be focused on seeking to understand who he is, what he stands for, how he leads, and what he wants to contribute to the team.  If he can provide you with that insight, your foundation of respect starts there.  It doesn’t replace your need to see the behavior, but it creates a starting point. Remember to be careful and be humble in your approach.  Respect goes both ways.  Do not damage his ability to respect you through this conversation.  You want to focus the conversation around learning more.

Know this, if the leader is truly someone deserving of the respect you are trying to give them, they will appreciate the conversation and will willingly focus on developing a strong working relationship with you. 

Once you get to this point, it becomes a balance of conversations, observations, and staying in tune with yourself to determine if the leader has started to earn your respect.  Realize that in some instances, there are very bad “leaders” out there who simply cannot earn the respect of their team.  If you follow this path and get to a point where you realize that respect is not something you will have for the individual, no matter how many conversations or how long you observe him, you have to decide how to move forward.  Only you will know what is best for you.