I remember the day I learned how fast leaders can lose respect.
I was in an emergency meeting at my plant.
The operation was having a problem with injuries, and we shut down the lines to talk about safety. We wanted to reinforce our commitment to our people and that nothing they did was worth getting hurt.
The operations manager stood in front of a crowd of 250 grim faced managers and technicians. And then she spoke:
“YOU people are disappointing me.”
Every one leaned in with disbelief. Then they leaned back, disengaged and shaking their heads.
With 5 words, a popular and well meaning operations manager lost the respect and support of her organization. She never regained it, and within 12 months she was replaced.
Accountability is one of the most important aspects of leading. There’s a time to hold people accountable.
There’s also a time to accept personal accountability.
6 words that earn respect
When I was in grade school, my father found an article called, ”A Short Course in Human Relations.” It was a series of statements from the 6 most important words in life to the single most important word.
He read them to us at the dinner table, impressing upon us how important it was to put the needs of others ahead of our own. I'll never forget how he stressed that we must swallow our pride, admit our mistakes, and take responsibility for our actions.
Years later when I became a manager, the foundation of how I managed came from those words from my childhood.
As I grew as a leader, I learned the hardest and most critical words were the first 6:
"I admit I made a mistake."
Leadership is about responsibility
My father taught me that leadership is not about taking credit.
It’s about assuming responsibility.
And by accepting responsibility without casting blame, he told me I would gain respect, and grow in the eyes of my organization.
He was right.
We earn respect not by what we do when times are great, but what we do when times are tough.
Here is the short course in human relations. It is as relevant today in large organizations as it was around our dinner table.
A Short Course in Human Relations
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I'm Rebecca Okamoto and I'm on a mission to unlock career potential.
Do you have something to say, but struggle to say it? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information or find about my popular workshop, "How to say who you are and what you do in 20 words or less".
Photo / respect by Patrick Marioné - thanks for > 1.2M, on Flickr. Modified for fit.