Home > Personal Development > Leadership Trait: Respectfulness

Leadership Trait: Respectfulness

I’ve had a difficult time getting this one worded out.  I was, more or less, compelled to write out an endless list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’; ‘Don’t go around robbing banks!’, ‘Don’t chew with your mouth open!’, ‘Shut the door, people will think you were raised in a barn!’

The thing is, if you want to get the best out of your people, you have to have their respect.  You don’t get peoples respect by winning a position.  The old saying, ‘You may not respect me as a man, but you’d better respect my rank!’ is a cop out for a lazy leader.  Respect is earned, and respectfulness is a learned trait.

Many, many moons ago I was probably the youngest active police officer in the State of West Virginia.  The micro town of Cairo, out in the middle of the North Bend State Park wilderness, needed to double the size of its full time police force for the upcoming Fourth of July festivities in 1978.  The city counsel was desperately running out of time, as they were unable to get the position filled.  They chopped down candidate requirements to: 1) over the age of 18, 2)having a heartbeat, and 3)fit into the uniform shirt from the previous law enforcement officer had turned in after deciding to explore alternative employment opportunities … fitting into the shirt being the most critical criteria.

They called back the chubby little volunteer emergency services dispatcher from up North a ways, along the East side of the Ohio River, in a slightly larger town called Sistersville, who’d just graduated from High School … me.  I hustled down to Cairo, buttoned up the shirt, and received the quickest promotion from recruit to sergeant of which I’ve ever heard.   I lasted about a week.  After the Fourth of July festivities were all said, and done, I was politely informed that my services were no longer required, and wished good will and good luck in my future endeavors.

Two or three days into the job the Mayor called in a complaint to the Water Department … the Police Department shared a telephone with the Water Department; not office space, just the phone, and, the Water Department had priority over the use of the telephone.  Though we were given the privilege use the little table on which the phone sat to write, our office was a brief case kept locked in the trunk of the police cruiser.  So, the Water Department guy hands the Chief of Police … the entire other half of the police department … the telephone.  The mayor, on the other side of the line, was upset.  There were a bunch of High School age kids in a parking lot across the street from his house setting off fire crackers prematurely, according to an ordinance issued by his office and supported the city council … and he wanted names.

The old Chief of Police had just poured himself a cup of fresh coffee, so he really didn’t want to bother with the issue.  Lucky for him, there was young Cairo P.D. Sergeant Henthorn standing in front of him with a happy face on, suggesting that the Chief finish his coffee, and allow the Sergeant to take care of the situation.  Figuring that he had no alternative but to turn me lose on the tax paying public of Cairo eventually, and sooner rather than later, the Chief reluctantly granted me leave to take care of the situation myself.

In a flash, I was out the Water Department door, and jumped in the drivers seat of the big, old boat of an antiquated police curser with bad shocks.  I hustled down the hill with the little bubble gum machine on the roof  turned on, making a faint ‘zzzzk! zzzzk!’ noise as the little red light with the mirror behind it rotated.  I didn’t turn on the siren, however, because it only worked intermittently, and sounded silly.

A few minutes later, I cruse into the subject parking lot, and pull to a stop with the car still bouncing from going over the curb ramp.  I threw open the curser door, tossed out the stub of the stogie  on which I was smoking … for effect, you know … hopped out, grabbed my night – stick, shoved it under my utility belt (because they didn’t have one of those ring things to hold it), took my little note book, and pen from my breast pocket, loosened up my arms, took a big breath, and said, “OK!  Everybody!  Line up!  I need everybodys name.”

Those kids looked at me, frozen in the act of whatever they were doing before I suddenly dropped in from outer space, or where ever it was from where I came.  I can’t even describe the look on their faces … surprise, maybe, I don’t know.  Then, all of a sudden, and in unison, they giggled, and then they laughed, and then they all just walked away, leaving me standing there, confused, holding my pen to the surface of my little notebook with my nightstick awkwardly tucked under my utility belt.  I got in trouble for allowing those kids to just walk away from the scene without getting one name written down in my little note book, and I was new in town, so I didn’t know what names to write down because they didn’t tell me what their names were.

I can look back on this incident 30 some odd years ex post facto, and laugh.  However, this was one of the most humiliating, embarrassing moments I’ve ever experienced while it was happening.

In hind site, I accomplished the primary objective of my mission … get the kids to stop setting off fire crackers in the parking lot.  However, if I had already developed the trait of respectfulness, I would not have a story to tell at this time, but I would have been much more effective.  I may have even been able to get a couple of names to make the Mayor happy.

Respect is something you have to earn.  You can’t just throw on a shirt with Sergeant stripes sewn on the sleeves, and expect people to respond accordingly.  You have to earn your stripes.  What it takes to earn your stripes is also dependent upon the expectations of the group in front of you, not just the group above you.  A good rule of thumb is to endear yourself as far down the rank structure as you can reach.

As a Battalion Commander during WWII, Chesty Puller personally delivered Thanksgiving Dinner to Marines of his unit in foxholes under fire (probably the origin of the term ‘Puller Luck’, the act of walking around in a combat zone and not getting shot, or at least not getting shot very bad).  To this day, Marines would follow Chesty Puller into Hell, and he’s been dead for 50 years.

You don’t even have to hazard yourself so dramatically.  Recently, I was working in a warehouse.  We’d just gotten a new General Manager for the site.  Moral was low in general due to several factors.  On this particular day, moral was very low, and we were running behind.  Without saying a word, the new General Manager got on a fork lift, and started loading trucks.  Magically, the crew started working more faster, more better, more eager, and got caught – up rather quickly.  From then on, if a crewman has the chance to say ‘Good Morning!’ to the General Manager, they generally mean it, and if they happen to disagree with a decision he has made, they generally don’t refer to him as a turd.

Till next time, develop rapport with your people, earn their respect, because you are spectacular, and deserve it.

Advertisements
  1. 2010/04/24 at 14:53

    .. Seldom.. It is possible to tell, this 🙂 exception to the rules

  2. 2010/04/28 at 14:33

    I searched for something completely different, but found your website! And have to say thanks. Nice read. Will come back.

    • Gerald Henthorn
      2010/07/01 at 17:07

      Thanks Wholesale Slippers!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: