The Duty of First...

Written By: Bryan Slater, Sumner High School

Everyone knows you must give respect in order to get respect. This raises a very important, and yet often overlooked question: who has the duty of giving it first?

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As a servant leader, you have the duty of giving first patience, kindness, honesty, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, humility, and commitment. If you’re walking around your classroom or workplace expecting your subordinates to show you respect first, you’re simply not leading. So what does the “duty of first” look like?

The Duty of First Patience:

Leadership is all about influence and influence is all about relationships. Every action you take as a leader will do one of three things: increase your influence, maintain your influence, or reduce your influence in the relationship. Therefore, when you demonstrate patience in your relationships by choosing to listen first it can only follow that you will, at a minimum, maintain your influence in your relationships. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to listen first? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first patience in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to listen first before acting.

The Duty of First Kindness:

Kindness is likely the most powerful way of showing your students or employees that they matter to you. Imagine all of the possible love languages out there that tie directly to kindness: gift-giving, acts of service, words of affirmation, etc.. It’s a guarantee those you are leading feel loved whenever their respective leader speaks their language; therefore you have the duty as the leader to show them first kindness. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to be kind? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first kindness in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to show kindness to others while leading them.

The Duty of First Honesty:

If you want those you lead to be honest with you, then you must show them honesty first. This essential in leadership is very challenging but also one of the most rewarding. When leaders demonstrate honesty, they are likely also demonstrating humility at the same time. If those you are leading see you are willing to own your own mistakes and take responsibility when you fail, then they are going to be a lot more willing to be vulnerable themselves and own their mistakes. It’s very important as a leader that you show forgiveness when those around you show honesty. Think about it; how many times has someone lost long term influence in your life by choosing to be honest? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first honesty in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to be honest over being dishonest with others while leading them.

The Duty of First Respect:

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The Golden Rule. You are the first actor. Treat others as you wish to be treated, but you must be the first to do the “treating.” Respect is the most commonly misunderstood term in leadership. So many leaders believe they are “owed” respect based on the things they’ve done to earn the position of “leader” in their workplace. The issue here is that respect is not “owed”, it is “earned.” What’s more, once you’ve earned respect from those you lead, it is not permanent. Don’t get it confused: you are absolutely worthy of being treated with respect. But so are those you lead. As a matter of fact, they are worthy of your respect before they’ve even shown you any. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to show you respect? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first respect in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to give respect before receiving respect from others while leading them.

The Duty of First Selflessness:

What does it mean to be selfless? Seems pretty easy right: putting others before yourself. When leading others by serving others, you are putting their needs ahead of your own. The challenge here is putting their needs ahead of your own and still getting your own job done. It might seem counter-intuitive to sacrifice your own performance so that your employees can do their job but what you’ll find is by choosing selflessness over selfishness, the amount of time those you are leading will spend helping you in return will pick up the slack. AND, by serving you in return, those you are leading will increase their influence in your life making the workplace a much more respectful place to be. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to be selfless? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first selflessness in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to be selfless over being selfish while leading them.

The Duty of First Forgiveness:

Honestly, this could also be the duty of first apology. But nonetheless, there will be times when you fail as a leader. There will also be times when those you are leading will fail. When they do, it’s critical that you be the first to forgive them for whatever they failed at. Approaching those you are leading with grace will create a workplace where people don’t want to disappoint, as opposed to a workplace where people don’t want to get in trouble. The difference there might sound pretty miniscule, but harken back to the days when someone you looked up to told you they were disappointed in you. Remember that feeling? It was far worse than the feeling you got when you messed up but didn’t really care about disappointing the person. Disappointment can only be felt by those who care about doing the disappointing; in other words, you can only disappoint someone who you have earned influence in the life of. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by choosing to forgive you? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first forgiveness in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to forgive over harboring a grudge while leading them.

The Duty of First Humility:

As mentioned above, it’s critical as a servant leader to be the first to own your own mistakes. There is going to be failure and if those you lead know that you are not perfect, they will likely treat you with kindness, patience, and forgiveness when you fail. But that can only happen if you are humble enough to admit your shortcomings. Beyond admitting failure, it’s important that you understand that you are entitled to feel proud of the accomplishments you have earned as a leader in the workplace. Celebrating those accomplishments while acknowledging you could not have accomplished those things without those who choose to support you is selfish and arrogant. People don’t follow people they don’t like and often times the reason they don’t like someone is because of their arrogance. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by showing humility? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first humility in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to be humble while leading them.

The Duty of First Commitment:

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Why would anyone follow someone who was not committed to the task they are being told to accomplish by the person leading them? They wouldn’t. Therefore, it must follow that the leader must be the first to show commitment to the cause they are asking those they lead, to accomplish. Think about it; how many times has someone lost influence in your life by showing commitment to the things you deem important? That number is likely very small. You have the duty of showing first commitment in your relationships and you will likely see your influence increase the more you choose to be committed to the tasks you empower them to take on.

These are your eight duties as a servant leader in your workplace and beyond. If you choose to believe in and act on these eight duties to the best of your ability, you will find those you are leading will begin to believe that they have the duty of returning patience, kindness, honesty, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, humility, and commitment and once that happens, buckle up because you’re about to have an entire workplace filled with servant leaders! Think about the potential...


About the Author: Bryan Slater is an experienced classroom teacher who has spent the last 15 years teaching high school Social Studies in Tacoma, WA, Lagos, Nigeria, and Sumner, WA. He currently teaches IB 20th Century Topics and Theory of Knowledge to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at Sumner High School. Bryan's passion centers on helping teachers and students understand the importance relationships play in developing a culture of learning and trust in the classroom. He believes the Eight Essentials are the key to those relationships and works hard to challenge his fellow colleagues and students to think about how they are creating their "Character Brand" as teachers and learners through the 1,000's of choices they make each day.