Whenever we pursue a topic that is primarily relational–and the leadership-followership dynamic is one such topic–there are a number of attributes that we must consider. Communication and trust are two central facets of relationship. But another, and more commonly overlooked, aspect that must be explored is honor.
There are whole cultures based upon the principles of honor and shame; in case you couldn’t guess, Western culture is not one of them. As a result, the importance of pursuing honor and honoring others is often lost within our workplace relationships.
Scanning the index from Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture, shows that honor is one of the threads that runs throughout the entire book:
honor, honoring, 15–16, 19–20, 43, 55–61, 73, 113, 166, 169, 180, 192, 204, 206, 212
In fact, I believe that honor is so vital that I include honoring your leader as one of the five obligations of excellent followers (see Chapter 5: Obligations of Followership).
I take the ascription of honor very personally as well. When my wife and I were married, more than 11 years ago now, we wrote our own vows (which we used alongside of the traditional ones). Included in my promise to her was this statement: “I will honor you, in public and in private.”
From a cultural-anthropological perspective, honor may mostly be a public commodity, but for me it was important to convey that–in any and every circumstance, whether behind closed doors or on open platforms–my words and actions would ascribe honor to my wife.
Bringing honor into the workplace can be a challenge. Amidst political backdealings, water-cooler grumbling, and perceived incompetency, fulfilling one’s obligation to honor your leader (and your fellow followers) does not usually come easily. Too often, our words of complaint, judgment, arrogance, ignorance, and dissatisfaction result in dishonor at the heart of a relationship that requires honor in order to function optimally.
How do we guard and guide ourselves in the conveying of honor?
- Remember that your leader is human too. Consider the standards and expectations you place upon yourself when you are about to render a word of judgment or grumbling about your leader. Leaders need encouragement and affirmation, just like followers, if they are to perform their best. They carry challenging burdens and responsibilities, and need a supportive environment in order to fulfill their duties with excellence.
- Remember that your achievements do not rest solely upon your own shoulders. Others–colleagues and bosses–were part of any success or accomplishment that you ascribe to yourself. Honor them for their participation and contribution.
- Remember that you are also part of this group. You have associated yourself with this organization, business, or team; you gain nothing by dishonoring the leader of it. In fact, you render your own judgment suspect: why would you follow such a dishonorable figure, unless you yourself have nothing but dishonorable motives?
- Honor builds trust, and trust opens the door to communication. These essential keys of relationship and cooperation are linked together. Don’t expect useful communication if you possess an underpinning of dishonor in your perspective toward your leader.
Honoring your leader doesn’t mean that you never offer a critique or a differing viewpoint. It certainly does not mean becoming a yes-man who exists only to prop up your leader’s ego.
But an authentic relationship of collaboration necessitates that a thread of honor connects you together, each one forsaking disparagement and instead demonstrating by words and actions the value and mutual dependence which exists in the other, and in the collaborative bond.
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Kirkdale Press, Feb 2016)
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