3 Reasons Why the “You Respect Me and I’ll Respect You” Paradigm Is Poor Leadership

If we are going to be leaders of authenticity and influence, there are certain sayings that, quite frankly, have to be removed from our framework of thinking. I recently heard this as being stated by a coach to the players:

“If you respect me, then I will respect you; if you don’t respect me then I will not respect you.”

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles |FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles |FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now, on the surface, I get this. It is desirable for respect to be mutual and “for this thing to work we have to work together and value and support each other.” I get that. But does that mentality actually work as a leader, and more importantly, is that leadership as defined in the context of how the Gospel influences my thinking?

This is actually a very flawed paradigm for leadership, and not only this statement, but any that follow the “If you…then I…” contractual pattern. Why is that?

Leaders Lead By Their Example, Not Other’s

Leadership is about leading by my example and not the example of others. To do otherwise is similar to playing that flinching game where the first person to flinch loses: I only respond when you initiate.

As a leader – and one that desires to be Gospel-centered – my leadership is meant to nurture and care for those under me without regard to how leadership/respect/love is reciprocated by others.

Jesus had a more authentic response while at the same time providing huge influence:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

(Matthew 5:38-42)

Jesus straight up answers the question, “What if I don’t get the same respect I show to others?” You simply treat them with dignity and respect…in fact, do extra. That is freedom  in leadership that the world does not frequently encounter.

Leaders Lead Unconditionally

Leadership based on “If you do for me…” is not true leadership. It is simply a contractual agreement. “You meet the terms, and I will do (fill in the blank).” I like the quote by Admiral James B. Stockdale:

Leadership must be based on goodwill. Goodwill does not mean posturing and, least of all, pandering to the mob. It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers. We are tired of leaders we fear, tired of leaders we love, and tired of leaders who let us take liberties with them. What we need for leaders are men of the heart who are so helpful that they, in effect, do away with the need of their jobs. But leaders like that are never out of a job, never out of followers. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away.

Leaders Lead With Moral Authority

The statement of “I will respect you if you will respect me…” ultimately gets translated as “I will exhibit leadership if you respond this certain way.” It is not difficult to lead when everyone is chanting your name and carrying you off the field in a victory celebration. But what about when times get tough or in the mundane day-to-day? What is really needed?

Andy Stanley says it is moral authority.

It is the alignment between a person’s convictions and his behavior that makes his life persuasive. Herein is the key to sustained influence.

The phrase that best captures this dynamic is moral authority. To gain and maintain your influence you must have moral authority. Moral authority is the critical, non-negotiable, can’t -be-without ingredient of sustained influence. Without moral authority, your influence will be limited and short-lived.

Moral authority is the credibility you earn by walking your talk.  ….  That is, when you look for a discrepancy between what he says he believes and what he does, you come up empty.

Nothing compensates for a lack of moral authority. No amount of communication skills, wealth, accomplishment, education, talent, or position can make up for a lack of moral authority. We all know plenty of people who have those qualities but who exercise no influence over us whatsoever. Why? Because there is a contradiction between what they claim to be and what we perceive them to be.

What is missing in the mentality of “you respect me and I will respect you”? It is Gospel-centered, unconditional love, the type of love that leads in spite of, not because of. I believe II Corinthians 12:15 sums up how our attitude is to be towards those we lead at our workplace, at church, in the classroom, or in our home:

 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?

What are your thoughts? Please leave a response!


4 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why the “You Respect Me and I’ll Respect You” Paradigm Is Poor Leadership

  1. Great article Antone. Was that quote from Next Generation Leader? Fantastic thoughts…also noteworthy is Andy’s quote about wealth, fame and power being morally neutral, but always acting as intoxicants…we must guard against being intoxicated by them!

  2. Hey Bobby – thanks so much for reading and commenting on my post. The quote from Andy Stanley was taken from his book Visioneering. There is a chapter in there about moral authority and its impact in leadership. In looking back, that was chapter I went through with Jack Klem when he was at the academic helm!

    That topic of moral authority is one that would be valuable to speak more about in our spheres of leadership. It is a powerful concept that can often get overlooked. Walking your talk…sounds so easy but we always have to keep ourselves in check with this one.

  3. Yes, I think that has a different meaning behind it, Blane. My emphasis is that too much of relationships are build on conditions rather than on grace. And when that happens, you lose the ability to influence the heart as opposed to just behaviors. Does that make sense?

    I do think your question is better in the form you presented it in. But at the end of the day, I hope my respect of others can be exclusive of their respect for me but I certainly want to model what I ask, as your statement above implies.

    Thank you for the comment, Blane.

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