In John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (2007), John shares the law of respect, which dictates that people tend to follow others with leadership skills and traits stronger than they themselves possess. Choosing those that one wishes to follow is not accidental. People follow others who possess leadership traits they respect and admire.
In certain situations, a person will follow someone else with weaker leadership traits such as a manager (chain of command) or due to someone’s past accomplishments. However, the law of respect suggests that people naturally follow those with stronger leadership skills. You notice this tendency when a new group forms. Often, the start of a new group is fraught with chaos as the group members sort out those with strong leadership. Once that occurs, the group starts following the one or few with the strongest leadership.
Earning respect comes from your natural ability, but natural ability alone limits leadership potential. Earning respect requires that you display respect for others. People will continue to follow when you respect others and lead consistently. Earning respect also requires courage. At some point in your leadership, you will stand alone. Good leaders do the right thing even when faced with failure and criticism. Displaying courage provides a hope for the future that others respect. Earning respect also comes from successes. People follow others with a good track record of successes. Loyalty contributes to your ability to earn respect. People respect that those help the team to the end and look out for those that follow even when personally damaging. Finally, people respect leaders that add value to those that follow.
Measure your level of the respect you earn. Take stock of those choosing to follow you because they determine your level of leadership and respect. If those that choose to follow are committed and display strong traits then your leadership level is probably high. Without earning respect, you will have difficulty leading. While serving in the military, I remember a senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) that struggled with his leadership. He never earned the respect of the group. Rather, the members of the group choose to follow two lower ranking NCOs whom they respected. Subsequently, the lower ranking NCOs each led a team while the senior NCO was relegated to a position without assigned personnel.
When you are frustrated because people follow you reluctantly or you do not attract the caliber of people you wish to, you need to evaluate your leadership. The law of respect dictates that people willingly follow those with stronger leadership than they themselves possess.
Links to other posts in this discussion on the laws of leadership.
Mind map of the 21 laws of leadership.
Introduction to the leadership laws
1 – The Law of the Lid
2 – The Law of Influence
3 – The Law of Process
4 – The Law of Navigation
5 – The Law of Addition
6 – The Law of Solid Ground
Maxwell, John. (2007). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.