Monday, October 4, 2010

Approval vs. Respect

In the The Tao Te Ching, roughly translatable as The Book of the Way and its Virtue (written around 600 BC),  Taoist sage Laozi dispenses a simple bit of wisdom: “Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner.”  These are strong words about a human tendency we all need to guard against.

In business, we sometimes forget that respect is much more important than approval. There is a kid inside all of us and when someone in authority or influence approves of us, we feel good.  Perhaps we made a good decision or hit an important goal.  That is human, positive, and understandable.

Unfortunately approval can also be addictive.  In an attempt to get that “approval rush,” some executives find themselves looking for ways to “score points” with those around them.  It becomes their singular purpose.

While this approval seeking may reduce insecurity, it actually results in a loss of power.  External approval becomes the only way to feel good; plans, actions, and decisions become consciously or unconsciously biased towards securing that approval.  High stress situations usually make this tendency worse.

Respect is different.  Respect is about having the internal fortitude to feel good about your leadership, even when others in power positions disagree with you.  It is about being held in high regard because of your innate abilities, overall track record, and courage.  It is paradoxical that when you stop caring about approval, respect often increases.

Approval seeking is normal.  It has been with all of us since we were children. Don’t underestimate its allure; it can creep in unnoticed and brutal honesty is the only antidote. 

By questioning your motivations regarding a given course of action, and testing your true objectives against real business priorities, you can avoid the “approval trap.”   By doing so you'll be able to stand behind all of your decisions--regardless of what others may think-- because that is what true leadership is all about!

To your success, 

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