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Shift Ministry Models

Respect, A Root Motivation

When respect is your basic longing
by Faith+Lead | September 16, 2021

This piece is re-published with permission from Eden Business Concepts. We invite you to reflect on how these thoughts from a faithful leader in the business sphere also apply to church leadership. See the original link above for related content including a podcast.

By John Erickson

The popular comedian from a previous generation, Rodney Dangerfield, was known for his famous complaint: “I don’t get no respect, no respect at all!”

“When I was a kid, I got no respect. I told my mother, ‘I’m gonna run away from home.’ She said, ‘on your mark . . .’”

“It was the same thing in the Army, no respect. They gave me a uniform that glowed in the dark.”

From the other side, and much less humorous, we all know what it’s like to have a teacher, a leader, or a co-worker who has a mob-boss-like requirement for respect, even when they lack awareness or concern for the people around them.

We are all motivated by one of three basic needs: respect, value, or approval. Through our development, education, and relationships, these root motivations can become so strong that they harden into entitlements or even addictions. They become emotional demands that drive our reactions and decisions, often without much thought.

Which scenario is more painful for you? What do you avoid more avidly?

  • To feel like a failure, incompetent, ultimately: disrespected?
  • To feel worthless, unheard, misunderstood, ultimately: devalued?
  • To feel unloved, uncared for, insecure, ultimately: disapproved?

This question of what hurts more helps to focus on the basic longing in your heart. All three of these needs interplay in your heart at times, but one of them most likely drives your primary reaction to unexpected resistance or pain. 

In this post we focus on the first root motivation: Respect.

Respect is my personal root motivation. Before I understood the power and influence of this, my unchecked entitlement to respect has driven my responses to life and relationships. Here are some things I’ve learned about myself over several decades of interactions.

I hate to fail. I hate failure more than brussel sprouts…more than the middle seat on an airplane (my shoulders are wider than the seat). I have spent a tremendous amount of emotional energy and time making sure I don’t fail, or at least that no one finds out how big a failure I am. If I get a whiff of failure, I’m looking around for someone to blame or somewhere to hide.

Why is failure so painful for me? It pushes my respect button. I perceive competence and success as the infallible paths to respect, and failure leaves me bereft of that powerful need. I believe that you won’t respect me if I’m a failure, and that is unacceptable in my emotional world.

On top of that, I’m always right (in my own mind). Even if you don’t think I am. “I’m not arguing; I’m simply explaining why I’m right.”

I also need a lot of clarity to maintain my rightness and competence. I can push for clarity past the point of comfort for many people, including my wife and friends.

For a respect-based person, a conversation or meeting often follows this path: It hurts to feel like a failure. I want to be right. I need to be respected. I demand clarity and push for competence. I become competitive, so I can grab whatever respect is possible. I’m not really concerned in the moment how much pain or discomfort I might cause or how unvalued the other person might feel; I just need to get my fix of respect. In fact, if I sense disrespect from you, even if my perception is wrong, it will be hard for me to listen and empathize with you.

All of this can be invisible or seem innocuous to the outside observer, especially if I have some awareness of relationship dynamics or decent communication skills that allow me to hide my motives. Over time, if I do not pay attention, my entitlement will harm or even end my ability to be in intimate relationships.

I’ve seen the effect of this entitlement over and over in my own life and in the lives of other respect-based leaders. As we grow in our emotional intelligence, we learn to become self-aware and how to regulate our emotional responses.

We can drop our entitlement to respect and turn our abilities and understanding toward wisdom – knowing how to apply our competence and success so that others can live into their potential. Wisdom is the antithesis and antidote to our entitlement for respect.

We move from demanding respect to providing wisdom when we recognize, accept, and value three things: 

  • who we are and how we are made
  • what we have experienced and learned
  • the privilege of pouring this into others

I’ll leave you with an ironic application of failure: this quote is often ascribed to either Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln. Neither is the source. “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Q&A for this topic:

  • Where do you see the desire to be respected in your life?
  • What is your attitude toward failure?
  • To what information do you feel entitled?
  • How do you express who you are and what you have experienced? 
  • Bonus question: How do you apply business or non-profit leadership concepts to your leadership within church systems? Where do you recognize differences?

For discussion of the other root motivations—value and approval—see Eden Business Concepts’ Thrive Space blog

About the Author
John Erickson, DMin, has one foot in the “church world” and another in business. His passion is to move leaders to understand how they communicate and operate in relationships, how they make decisions and create work environments that allow their companies to thrive and flourish because they are both healthy and smart across their organizations. Learn more about his work on root motivations, including an upcoming free workshop at Eden Business Concepts.

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