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As Aretha Franklin so aptly sings:

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T
find out what it means to me”

showing respect for another person requires taking the time and effort to learn what “respect” means to that person – what are the words and actions that they see as a demonstration of respect. Receiving respect requires time and effort as well. In the December 2008 issue of Inc. Magazine, corporate CEO Joel Spolsky writes about an experience he had with a high-ranking sergeant major when he was a member of the Israeli army. Spolsky describes the sergeant major as a man with years of experience who always appeared immaculate, wearing spotless, starched uniforms with perfectly polished shoes no matter how muddy his surroundings were. He was a man who demanded impossibly high standards of order and cleanliness.

On the first day Spolsky worked for this sergeant major, the officer’s actions earned him Spolsky’s respect and admiration. When assigning Spolsky to clean toilets, the officer got down on his hands and knees and personally demonstrated how to clean a toilet and leave it shining. Spolsky writes:

“To a 19-year-old assigned to clean toilets, which is almost by definition the worst possible job in the world, the sight of this high-ranking, 38-year-old, manicured, pampered disciplinary officer cleaning a toilet was a shock. And it completely reset my attitude. If he can clean a toilet, I can clean a toilet, I thought. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning toilets. My loyalty and inspiration from that moment on were unflagging. Now that’s leadership.”

Spolsky goes on to say that as CEO of his company, he’s:

“working hard to make [it] a place where authority and respect are earned and not bestowed.”

Similarly, in the December 8, 2008 issue of Newsweek Magazine, Jacob Weisberg talks about the value of leaders earning loyalty rather than demanding it.

He points out that a number of people are worried about President Elect Obama’s choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State for fear that she will not be loyal to him. Weisberg responds to that fear saying:

“[I] doubt President Obama will have much trouble with disloyalty in his administration, from Clinton or anyone else, for the same reason it wasn’t a problem in his campaign: he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.”

Weisberg goes on to state that experience and expertise are more important than loyalty in selecting Cabinet members. Surrounding oneself with diehard loyalists breeds insularity, he says, and can lead to the failure to obtain important information and advice. Weisberg concludes by writing:

“Team Obama understands that political devotion can no longer be cultivated principally through threats and rewards. Instead, it depends on aides feeling that they’re advancing a shared set of goals. To put it a different way, a modern president can’t command loyalty. He has to earn it.”

Based on Obama’s Cabinet choices so far, it appears that Obama understands the importance of both hearing independent, dissenting voices and of needing to earn, rather than demand, loyalty.

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