FIRST CLASS COACH - I've just been made head of department. I think I'm capable of doing the job, but I need my peers and reports to take me seriously. How can I get them to respect me?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I've just been made head of department. I think I'm capable of doing the job, but I need my peers and reports to take me seriously. How can I get them to respect me?

Respect is an interesting phenomenon: it can be given, it can be earned, but it can't be bought, forced or demanded.

Respect, of course, starts with you yourself. For, as Anthony Trollope asserted: 'Nobody has a good opinion of the man who has a low opinion of himself.'

Do you have self-respect? If your self-respect is patchy, it could be because there are genuinely some areas in which you do not meet the required standard or, more often, because low self-esteem is encouraging you to be hard on yourself and preventing you from understanding (or accepting) the high regard in which others hold you, or of which you are worthy.

If the latter is your issue, you could boost your self-worth by creating a long list of what's great about you. Include things that you do and achieve outside work, and things that others have said that at the time you didn't necessarily believe or value: since perception is reality, attributes that reside in the eye of the beholder are every bit as 'true' as your more negative self-assessment. If you are a good cook, a good friend or a passable parent, put this on your list too. When you've done your list, read it over to yourself and allow yourself to feel proud. You will have created a personal resource bank to refer back to at times when confidence in your own abilities wavers.

You will no doubt develop your own ideas about the kind of department head you want to become. A good place to start is by creating an inventory of the skills, attributes and behaviours of those whom you respect in senior roles and then comparing yourself with it, using your resource list. This will help identify those aspects of who you are and the way you operate that are already worthy of respect by others. These are things that you can accentuate in your day-to-day life by doing them, or embodying them, rather than talking about them - no-one likes a braggart.

I suggest you make sure you set out goals and expectations, for yourself and others. Among those I coach, I sometimes find dissatisfaction because they feel their bosses have given no clear steer on what's expected of them and then suddenly find themselves criticised for under-achievement.

Being clear on goals is a good way of making sure everyone knows the direction in which you're headed and also what success will look and feel like.

Another approach that wins respect is giving praise and acknowledgment.

Most people thrive on recognition, provided it is genuine and specific, but few of us get enough - not because we don't deserve it, but because it's not very British. Yet acknowledgment can be a rapid way of showing your respect for the contribution that others make and it will encourage mutual respect in them.

Respect for others is also vitally important. Discovering what those who now report to you think and feel about the department and the organisation will be one of the responsibilities of your new role. I'm not suggesting that everyone has a vote, merely that they have a voice and know that you have heard their opinion.

Making up your own mind, on the basis of what you have heard and of your own reading of the situation, will also be important. As James O'Toole says in his preface to Max DePree's excellent book Leadership is an Art: 'The leader listens to the ideas, needs, aspirations and wishes of the followers and then - within the context of his or her own well-developed system of beliefs - responds to these in an appropriate fashion. That is why the leader must know his own mind.'

Make sure there are no small ways in which you are undermining your authority: arriving late for meetings, not being able to find the papers you need, looking scruffy or badly turned out. These may seem superficial but can cloud recognition of more significant achievements. Be sure you look the part. Wearing the same clothes as when you were at a lower level in the company will do nothing to help register your more senior role. Besides, buying a new, more expensive outfit will be an important signal to yourself of your new responsibilities and ambitions and will help increase your self-esteem.

Be aware that, despite your best efforts, there may be some in your department who will refuse to be impressed by you, however hard you try. They may find any kind of authority hard to accept; they may not like having a boss of your age, gender or style. But in the end, if you are worthy of respect, this is their problem, not yours.

Miranda Kennett is managing coach at The Coaching House and a founding partner of The Management Due Diligence Co. If you have an issue you would like covered in this column, please e-mail:

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