Respect is fundamental to me. In my life as a leader, there are two things that I hold close to in my relationship with others: respect and loyalty. Let me address loyalty briefly. Loyalty is important in any relationship because you want to know that that person has your back. Loyalty should not be unquestioning in its purpose, nor should it require one to bend the rules or break the law to demonstrate one’s faithfulness to another – rather, loyalty in its simplest form is seen when a person stands by you to support and be an aide with no hidden agenda. This type of loyalty is two-way, in that when one helps the other, the other when opportunities or situations arise, remembers the one that was there for them and reciprocates.
How often have you found yourself connecting with another leader, and out of your growing respect for them and a desire to build a solid and genuine relationship, you open yourself and your network to bless them with opportunities, doors opened, and continuous elevation into new dimensions for their lives? Still, you never see the same type of loyalty and respect reciprocated. As servant leaders, we are called to do this. Our role and responsibility is to selflessly build up others, bless them with our talents and resources, and rejoice in their successes. Yet, even in our willingness to do so, we are human and sometimes can feel used and abused by those we have sowed into, only to realize they are just takers in the relationship.
Consider this point: if you want to destroy a leader’s spirit, you must demonstrate that you have no respect for them through your actions or lack thereof. It is so easy to see when one lacks respect for another. Simple activities such as not responding to communication, accepting the blessings one gives and never giving back, not affirming or showing acceptance of another, or even thinking that your position or title makes you more deserving and above another are just a few types of actions.
And not to get all high and mighty, we must understand the other side of this equation: it is incumbent upon us to earn respect through how we live and lead others. This past weekend, I talked with another pastor whose frustrations and cynicism over an ongoing situation boiled down to the “lack of respect.” This pastor had come to the place where he had lost respect for the organization, its leaders, and ministry members because he had been shown little to no respect as a person or in his ministerial office.
This pastor is not someone new to the scene. He has served in leadership on national and international boards for other organizations. He is not naïve about placing these individuals and the organization on a pedestal. Nor does he expect any of them or the organization to be perfect. But he does expect them to exemplify the character and heart of a disciple of Christ.
Sad to say, I could identify with some of this pastor’s feelings and emotions as I considered my ministry and the personal disappointments I have had in interacting with my peers in ministry and not feeling respected or appreciated. But I have learned that I am a servant leader and a kingdom builder for Christ alone. Therefore, in every disappointment I experience, I turn my eyes to heaven and ask God to help me grow through these hurts, frustrations, and hypocrisies. I focus on what I have come to seek in my own life: those who know me best will be the ones who respect me most. I authentically desire that my family, friends, church staff, members, and peers in ministry can appreciate how I live and lead.
Reflecting on this issue of respect, especially for those of us who lead in ministry, I’ve identified three ways to enhance our character and earn the respect we seek.
First is integrity. This is the one thing that is easy to give up, yet very hard and, at times, near impossible to regain. The people closest to us know us best. They see when we are fudging the truth and being inconsistent in our walk. It is easy to make things sound better than they are, but remember, dishonesty is a slippery slope that needs to be treated with severity in our lives. Do not devalue your integrity – without it, you will never earn respect from others.
The second is humility. James 3:16 says, “For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil.” Don’t let your pride and ego direct your path. Remember, there is always someone better and more talented than you. Keep yourself humble in your dealings. Do not seek out others; use them for what they can do for you. Because whatever you do, you will reap one way or another. Selfish ambition is so seductive. It strokes our pride, fuels our ego, and makes us feel significant. But it can be poison to our souls and our leadership. As James says, it will bring disorder and dysfunction. When I stop being a “servant leader” and it is always about “me,” the people I lead will lose respect.
And finally, give instead of take. One of the quickest ways to lose respect is to have an attitude toward what they can do for me. Do not look at others as positions and connections but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus is our perfect role model; he always treated people with dignity and personal care. Jesus was interested in the individual. He was not interested in what could they do for him. He never was in the taking mode. Your motive will become apparent as you connect with others. If you only use people for what they can give you, it will be recognized, and such actions will damage their respect and any relationship. Remember, we are called to be servants, not masters.