No one wanted to get respect as a new manager as I did. As a young kid moving up a step on the ladder, I had previously established relationships with former peers who now reported to me.
And after doing their jobs for three years, I had strong opinions about what needed to change. I had ideas and assumed that my team would embrace my changes.
Like the kids seeing Willy Wonka’s factory for the first time, I wanted to try everything.
I immersed myself in meetings, fighting what I thought were noble battles for my team. This was my way of earning the respect that I desperately desired as a new manager.
Except, it didn’t work.
My team was overwhelmed with the pace of change. They couldn’t keep up with all of my initiatives, even though I came from their ranks. People starting calling the changes “Ian’s ideas” in a derogatory manner.
No One Cares About Your Title
In the TV series, Game of Thrones, Tywin Lannister represents the typical autocratic ruler. Confident and full of himself, he goes by more nicknames than Muhammed Ali.
Head of House Lannister, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Hand of the King, Savior of the City; you get the point. This is one manager who does not lack confidence.
From a fictional character perspective, he is fascinating.
One of his most famous lines from the show is, “A lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep.” For a bad guy on a TV show, it’s a cool line. As a methodology for leading a business team? It’s suicide.
Tywin isn’t concerned with getting respect as a manager. Lannister’s people can’t leave to find another ruler. When he ignores their ideas, they can’t update their resume and find a recruiter. They are stuck with old Tywin regardless of how he treats them.
Try to come up with all of the ideas, and your team will quit on you. Plain and simple.
You Are Not Leading Monkeys
To demonstrate how organizations suffocate good ideas, we’ll use a common business fable loosely based on a set of experiments by G.R. Stephenson in 1967.
Stephenson worked with a group of rhesus monkies to see if learned behavior could be passed from one group to the next.
Whenever a monkey would pick up an object in the cage, he would get blasted by an air hose, along with his or her cage mates.
One by one, monkies were replaced with new monkeys. As the new monkey would arrive and approach the object, the other monkeys would panic, knowing the air hose was looming.
The males would rumble with any new monkey who went for that banana. Over time, the hose went away, and none of the monkeys remaining in the cage had a history with the punishing air blasts.
Yet, every monkey knew not to mess with the object that created such a fervor with their predecessors.
So, what does monkey research have to do with driving change in a business?
A Feeling Of Learned Helplessness
Let’s say an employee sees an opportunity for the company to change, and excitedly offers a bright idea.
He takes it to a manager and waits for an attaboy. Instead, he gets a blank stare. Next, he gets a lecture about why that wouldn’t work in this specific company.
This has the same effect as getting doused with a bucket of ice-cold water. The whole experience leaves our innovator bitter.
Then a new employee joins the office. Soon enough, he has an idea to help the company. Before sharing with a manager, he is intercepted by his jaded office-mate.
He is told about how this company is a graveyard for amazing ideas and how innovative thinking is treated. Not wanting to succumb to the same harassment, the new employee doesn’t bother bringing the idea to management.
And so it goes, with every new hire who joins the office. Before long, the manager who reacted poorly is gone, and so are the people who surfaced the ideas.
Still, no one bothers to raise their hand because “that’s how it’s always been around here.”
The concept of Learned Helplessness applies to individuals or teams who believe that nothing they do will influence the company.
Common symptoms of a team with learned helplessness are:
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of Effort
And for you as the leader, how do you think your team feels about you?
Get More Respect By Listening
If your team is frustrated or apathetic, they place the blame squarely on you. They don’t want to hear about how it is out of your hands.
You are paid to look out for them and to be a careful steward of their ideas, and not just yours. You can see it in their eyes when a team is no longer buying what you are selling.
And no matter how much pushing you do, a team with these feelings will never give you their best effort. You might create a top-down initiative, but the execution is always bottoms-up.
A team that doesn’t believe their voice is relevant will not bother to share, innovate, or play devil’s advocate. Lasting change only happens when front-line employees believe they are working for an initiative that originated with their ideas.
Any effort to earn a team’s respect starts with soliciting direct feedback and making strategy a joint effort.
If you are a new leader, you will be given a “honeymoon phase.” As with newlyweds, everything is still new, exciting, and filled with hope. This is the perfect time to gather as much intelligence as possible.
But if you got off to a poor start already, I’ve found that teams are incredibly forgiving if you are willing to reset your approach and listen to their input. Be honest that you regret your autocratic approach and ask if you can start over with a different approach.
People love humility and honest, so lay it on thick.
Ten Questions Every Manager Should Consistently Ask To Get More Respect
If you want to get respect as a manager, sit down one-on-one with every direct report and ask this same set of questions:
1. What should I change?
2. What are you scared that I will change?
3. What does this team do well?
4. What do we do that customers love?
5. What do we do that drives customers crazy?
6. What do we do that employees love?
7. What do we do that drives employees crazy?
8. What opportunities are we missing?
9. Which competitors concern you the most? Why?
10. What would you focus on if you were in my job?
Of course, asking questions will do more damage to your reputation if you do nothing after gathering information. But you have to start somewhere, and you might be stunned by how appreciative your team is that you took the time to listen.
Don’t shortcut this process. Take the time to meet with every person on your team and ask the same questions. Set up video calls this week, ask the questions, and take written notes while they share.
If you do nothing else with this email, you will get more respect as a manager. Teams appreciate leaders who are attentive to their needs.
And a team that respects their manager will run through walls to produce results. Get out there and earn it.