Tom Renehan Discusses How Respect Impacts Leading – Episode 097

LFL 97 | Respect In Leadership


As the old saying goes, “respect is earned, not given.” This adage is especially true for leaders in business. In this episode, Patrick Veroneau chats with Tom Renehan about the value of respect in leadership. Tom is a Certified Professional Coach who specializes in leadership and has helped many mid- and senior-level managers improve their skills as leaders. They drill down on the true meaning of respect and other important attributes of being a respected leader. Tune in and reflect on whether you have what it takes to be a leader with respect and how you can do better.

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Tom Renehan Discusses How Respect Impacts Leading

Respect And Self-Awareness Go Hand In Hand When Leading

Our guest is Tom Renehan, who is a good friend and a respected colleague of mine in the coaching industry. Our topic is around respect and self-awareness as it relates to effective leadership. Let’s get into it.

Tom, thank you again for being on the show. We had an opportunity to talk in what I thought would be an interesting conversation, which was around leadership but specifically around the topic of respect. I’m looking forward to where this conversation will go. Before we start that, I’d love for you to give some background in terms of how you got into coaching in the first place.

Thanks for having me. I had a very good career mostly in sales and sales leadership. As I started to think about what I wanted to do in the future, post-career, I always thought that I would be a teacher over my career. I taught at several different institutions. I got my Master’s Degree at Wake Forest University and they invited me back to teach Sales Management. I love teaching but that level bit me. I said, “This was a lot of fun.” I did it in a couple of other institutions and when I moved back to New England, I enjoyed it. I thought, “Maybe that’s going to be my post-retirement activity and teach at the college level.”

I was on the road one time and reading an article. It talked about coaching. I got more intrigued by it. I said, “People are getting paid to do this stuff?” I have adjusted my style at work. I started to research coaching and I looked at certification. You are part of that research because if you recall, we sat down and talked about the certification and why that was important. Although it’s not required in our field and you supported that certification is a point of difference. We went to the same institution and I remember that well. I was there and a few years ago that I became certified.

The second thing is I became certified in Leadership Effectiveness Analysis 360. It’s a 360 assessment. I found that to be a good jump-off point for me in starting with clients and using that assessment. I’ve also found it to be very true and powerful for the people that take it and gives you real meaningful actions for them to change their behaviors. One of the reasons that I have lean towards this profession was that I’ve always managed salespeople. Several years ago, I realized that I took the sales out of it and became just people. People became my passion. Helping people become better at what their craft was, no matter what they were doing, it became my passion. That redirected and supported me as a coach. I texted my wife that very night from the restaurant and sent her the article, I said, “What do you think of that?” She said, “This is perfect for you.” That’s how I became a Certified Professional Coach.

When the leader has respect for the followers, followers are going to have respect for the leader, and that's when this works best. Click To Tweet

My background was in sales training and leadership and it was always enjoyable to have people that would approach with questions or things that you could do. You had an opportunity to help them develop. We all have that same drive and then decided to say, “I want to do this under my own umbrella on how I want this to look.” Many of us have very similar stories as it relates to that.

I’m always excited to be there. You know how it is in the more modern job world is that you don’t stay at the same place for 35 or 40 years. You had several trips along the way. I always looked at something different in between jobs. Not that I didn’t have many things, thank goodness. Had I known several years ago what I knew a few years ago, my career would have taken a different turn, probably very similar to yours where you are at your age and you build a successful business. I would have taken that term several years ago, as opposed to just a few years ago. Time is good.

It doesn’t matter what age it’s at. That’s the beauty of this. It’s not like we’re out on a playing field. It’s about our physical ability. We can do it whenever. Over time, you gain more experience in terms of just life experiences that you’re able to bring to the table. It’s not that you tell people how they should do things but it’s simply you provide different perspectives. That’s the real value to it.

I call that wisdom.

As it relates to our topic, what are your thoughts on that?

Let me give you the inspiration for this topic. This story was unfolding in the media about Captain Crozier on the aircraft carrier, Theodore Roosevelt. To touch on it, I don’t want to review the news here. He was raising the flag above his crew of almost 5,000 people on one ship down with COVID-19 and he wasn’t happy about it. He ultimately got removed from his command. The video still chills me when I see him walking down the plane. His last act on that warship and his crew were cheering him, “Captain Crozier.” It said to me, “This crew, these 5,000 people respect this guy.” They don’t respect him for his title. They respect him for who he is and how he was taken care of.

LFL 97 | Respect In Leadership

Respect In Leadership: Self-awareness is the key thing. Things start to change when they realize the impact they have on people.


That was my inspiration because of all the coaching that I’ve done, I can’t think of a time where I was speaking with somebody about how do you respect people? How do they respect you? When we think about all of the leadership traits, behaviors and skills that we talk about as coaches, this one doesn’t come up very often. Also, what’s unique about respect is that it works best when it works both ways from the followers and from the leader. When the leader has respect for the followers, the followers are going to have respect for the leader and that’s when this works best. That’s what I saw with Captain Crozier and his crew on the worship at Theodore Roosevelt.

If you think about respect defined, you can get it by position. I’m the vice president of sales and by that title, you’re going to respect that title. The problem, if you leave it at that, often that type of respect will induce fear within your organization. It’s because “I’m the vice-president here. I can’t say this. I can’t do that. I got to behave.” People get nervous around senior leadership. If that person shows due respect to his or her followers then it’s going to be a different conversation. That’s what I call a trait, it’s earned and respect. Once that leader earns the respect of their followers, it’s going to change the dynamic of that relationship.

There’s a quote that I will often recite that says, “If your actions inspire somebody to do more, dream more, learn more or become more, you’re a leader.” That’s it, no title. It’s your actions that do that. To me, what you just said speaks to that.

A very wise man that I know says that everybody is a leader. I’ve heard you say that many times and that’s great and true. I believe in that. I preach that to my clients no matter what level they are.

I do believe that. Too often, we do get caught up in this idea that we need a title to lead. It was based on a high school talk that I was asked to give up North. They were introduced as emerging leaders, these high school kids. The first thing that I said to them before I even gave the talk was to say, “Do not look at yourself as emerging leaders. You can be a leader now.” Quite honestly, the world can’t wait for leaders. We need them now. We can’t wait for two years that you get a title, you graduate or whatever that is. You have the ability to do this now and that’s what we need. I’m with you.

I was researching respect and you have to go to the dictionary and find out what the true meaning is. It’s something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements. That makes sense. I pulled out my Leadership Effectiveness Analysis 360 and on that, we measured the 22 behaviors, which rolls up into six leadership functions. I was just reviewing that and the word respect isn’t on that page at all, which surprises me. If you look at the characteristics of respect, it’s honesty, controlling emotions, resourceful, admitting when you’re wrong, someone who’s driven, who prioritizes, with integrity, who’s a role model, high self-esteem, who’s a giver and loyal. Now we’re getting into definitions of a leader. I thought that that was a fascinating journey in researching this topic.

If your actions inspire somebody to do more, dream more, learn more, or become more, you're a leader. That's it. No title. Click To Tweet

For you, when you go through that list, is there anything in particular that you find more relevant to the work that you do or that you’ve seen in terms of one being more important than another or more difficult to develop?

Not in the work I do. Self-awareness hasn’t come up but that’s certainly another key attribute for a leader no matter what level to be able to deal with the respect issue. That, to me, is probably something in the work that I do with the people that I coach. Their self-awareness is the key thing that we talk about often. Once I get over that, things start to change when they realize the impact that they have on people. They start to lead a little bit differently. It changes the dynamic in the organization. I find that to be one of the most interesting things as I coach people.

I heard you talk about that list. The one that I know from what I’ve seen in the past that can be the most challenging is admitting mistakes and I’m wrong. There’s a vulnerability there that if you are insecure with yourself or your own abilities, it can be difficult for you to admit to, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry, I don’t have the answer. Maybe I’m frustrated,” whatever it might be. I would say most often, I see it if it’s a group of new managers or leaders, all of a sudden we think like, “I can’t let my team think that I don’t know the answers because then they’re not going to respect me,” where it’s counterintuitive. By admitting that you don’t know or that you’ve made a mistake, oftentimes it builds more trust and respect because they know that you’re not full of it.

I was with a client and he’s a new manager. He’s getting leadership coaching after six months on the job, which is wonderful for this organization that’s he’s in. The thought processes that he wants to be as good as the people that he’s leading. I said, “Why do you want to do that?” He said, “I have to know that job.” I said, “They’re the expert, you’re not. You’re the leader. Why don’t you let them do their job? Give them the space to do their job and not step right up and be them or be a Superthem.” It was an awakening moment for him that he didn’t have to be as good as they were at their job.

It’s a dance, too. I’m sure he’s wanting to demonstrate to them like, “I want to know what you do but you need to do it in a way that people don’t feel as they are being micromanaged,” or you just trust them to do what their job is.

It is a dance that’s balanced. It’s when to step in, help and learn. It’s also the ability to step back and observe. In this particular case, he’s a sales manager. Part of his job is training, coaching and developing. If he’s doing their job with them side-by-side, not observing how they’re doing their job or he’s just doing it, he’s not seeing the opportunity to be train, coach and develop as well.

LFL 97 | Respect In Leadership

Respect In Leadership: If the leader is just mouthing words or dictating what they need to do instead of saying, “How will we get there as a team?” and having a collaborative conversation, respect is not going to come.


Do you notice any difference in regards to helping people take on management or leadership roles? Where I’m going with this is I think of the people that have been successful in sales that can then get promoted to a manager as opposed to maybe some other field where they’re working more with other groups before they take on a management role. Being in sales myself, I saw many that were promoted to manager because they were successful as sales reps. That was their biggest downfall when they became a manager because those same skills oftentimes didn’t translate over.

That’s the old adage. The best salesperson doesn’t make the best manager. It takes me back to what I mentioned when I taught sales management at Wake Forest University and this was to graduate students. They were no people skills in it. It was all forecasting and hard sales stuff. I gained permission to remake the entire course. It made a lot more work for me but I had a lot of fun doing it. It was all people management and how do you manage people. To get back to your question, good organizations recognize that. There’s a way to grow a salesperson from carrying the bag and the feet on the street. Before they get to management, often they go to a higher level where they see a bigger picture of the organization.

The organizations that they’ve been with at the key account level are often where they learn that before they get to the people management part of the business. They understand both sides, the low level of sales organization, the higher-level account side, the people side and see if they succeed in that role prior to getting to the management. I’ve seen both mistakes. People get moved up and they failed. That is the mistake that many organizations make.

I can’t remember where I heard this but it has always resonated with me as it relates to this topic is that respect is not given. It’s earned, which again strips away the title of this thing that, “I don’t care what your title is.” It’s your behavior. Organizationally, we can say the same thing about respecting organizations. I think of congruence as well. Do I walk the talk? If I don’t walk the talk or don’t have a sense of integrity, organizationally, I think of that. We say we’ve got certain values or mission statements yet if we don’t behave in ways that align with what we say then there’s a lack of respect there. People don’t respect people that don’t follow through on what they say they stand for.

There are so many aspects of that to successful leadership. If the leader is just mouthing the words, repeating the words or dictating what they need to do instead of saying, “How are we going to get there as a team and having a collaborative conversation?” The respect is not going to come from the followers. Another overlay into this, I was in a webinar from MRG and they talked about compassionate leadership. That’s an interesting term because if you think about leaders, do they think of themselves as compassionate? Their definition of compassion was empathy in action, which I thought was fabulous. I love the way they made that very simple. Compassion is an important piece of leadership. If you show compassion much like the ability to admit when you’re wrong, that is also going to earn the respect of your followers or any other individual. It doesn’t always have to be a leader-follower. It can be your neighbor. How do you earn the respect of your neighbor or fellow board members? It goes on. It’s an interesting life lesson if we focus more on respect as opposed to leadership.

The term leader itself is evolving certainly from what it was several years ago. I remember one of my first managers in sales who then went on to become a coach. He and I would stay in contact but he said, “One of the first books that we were given as managers, the title of the book was Managing Through Intimidation. It’s how archaic it was, this idea of you need the title and you scare people into going where you want to go. I don’t think it worked then and it definitely doesn’t work now. Oftentimes, what do we do? We blame the generation now and we all know it begins with an M. The Millennials don’t want to work. I disagree. I’ve got so many nieces and nephews that are in that Millennial space. I don’t know any of them that aren’t hard workers. They’re all charting their own paths. To me, it’s more an indictment on bad leadership than it is an indictment on a generation as to why people don’t want to follow where somebody else is going. We have natural drives. If I treat you in certain ways with respect, I can do that. Also, it doesn’t mean that I’m weak or a pushover. I can do that in a way that we have very clear expectations of how this is going to go. That’s the empathy in action type. I can remember what it was like to be a frontline leader or a carrying the bag but that still doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be expectations that are going to be held because of it.

Once that leader earns the respect of their followers, it's going to change the dynamic. Click To Tweet

That’s the balance we were talking about. You can still have a good conversation with somebody knowing the kids’ names, the wife’s name, what they do and still have expectations for that position.

You’ve probably heard this too, the individual that says, “I can’t get that close to the people that report to me because they’ll take advantage of me.” That’s an indictment of your lack of competence in your own skills or insecurities that create that. I know many that lead from a place of connection with individuals but also, they’re able to draw the line when there needs to be more accountability or ownership to things. You can’t have both. That’s the world that we’re coming into.

You make a valid point about the generational thing. A lot of the Millennials I coached and I enjoy it thirst for knowledge and want to get better at what they do. I don’t put my fingers at them and say, “You’re just lazy Millennials. You don’t want to learn,” but no, they want to learn. I want to help them learn.

They’re not just going to take what we say because of our age or our title. They’re going to question and be curious on stuff. To me, what more could you ask for? If more people were like that, we would have more efficient systems in many places.

To get back to our topic because Millennials could be a whole other show. Working with Millennials, I typically find very deep respect from them to me, which is very humbling. I get calls from not only informal coaching like relatives, nieces and nephews, all people that I’ve worked with but my clients as well and get calls for an occasional question. I find that very humbling that they respect me enough to say, “Tom, I’ve got a question. This is the situation.” They’ve got a dad, an uncle and other things that they can go to but I often get those calls and appreciate that.

Tom, knowing what I know of you and certainly our previous experiences, if I were to jump into one of those individuals that comes to you, it would most likely be that they know that you’re listening to them. It’s such an important skill to be able to transparently and authentically listen to somebody else.

LFL 97 | Respect In Leadership

Respect In Leadership: Showing your own self-awareness and awareness of others and their emotions and how things may impact them is critical to what’s going on in today’s environment.


That’s very true and a valid point because leaders often don’t listen. That’s another key skill, an attribute that we haven’t touched on. It probably could be another episode for you as well but it is truly a unique trait that takes a lot of practice. People recognize that as well.

I look at listening as a superpower. If you are a strong, authentic listener, many things become easier whether it’s conflict or miscommunication getting resolved quicker as your presence builds trust, respect and all of those things. As we wrap things up here, what direction do you think leaders need to focus on most in the situation that we’re in?

In our situation, our emotional intelligence and we touched on this a little bit, showing your own self-awareness, the awareness of others in their emotions and how things may be impacting them. I think that is critical to what’s going on in nowaday’s environment. I have a couple of Zoom calls as I’m sure you have in the past. When there is an informal meeting, we start with, “How’s everybody doing?” The leaders who do that on those calls are showing their emotional intelligence. It’s giving people an opportunity to say, “I’m nervous but I’m okay,” or whatever they’re saying on that call. It adds time to your day but that’s all right. These leaders on these calls showing their emotional intelligence are caring for other people, giving them a voice and an opportunity to say how they do it.

That’s well said and very much needed at this point in terms of that ability to check-in almost that empathy component to it. With that said, Tom, thank you for taking the time to be on the show again. I always enjoy our conversations. Respect, you’ve hit it right on the head of how important that is so thanks for that.

Thank you. It was a lot of fun.

Tom provided some great insight as it relates to the importance of self-awareness and developing respect that it’s not about the title. That respect is something that’s earned and touched on. Something that certainly is very important to the work that I do around emotional intelligence. The first component to this around self-awareness. If you know somebody that would find this episode valuable, I’d ask that you forwarded it onto them. If you haven’t subscribed, please subscribe to the show. It would mean the world to me if you would leave a rating or a comment regarding this or any other episode. Until our next episode, I hope you’re able to go out there and rise above your best.

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About Tom Renehan

Tom Renehan is a Certified Professional Coach who specializes in Leadership. He works with mid- and senior-level managers to help develop their skills as a leader. Tom’s approach to Leadership Development is through group workshops, one on one coaching and Leadership Assessments.

Tom is certified in Leadership Effectiveness Analysis 360 (LEA 360) which measures 22 leadership behaviors which fall under six leadership functions. Feedback is given from subordinates, bosses and peers within your organization.

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