The One & Only Trait Leaders Need, and the 6 Ways to Get It

Dakota Shane
Feb 21, 2016 · 8 min read

One thing that worries me is a large number of startup founders today have never taken an order at a drive-thru, flipped a burger, or poured a customer’s coffee.

A lot of them have never had to have a “normal job”. The kind you don’t want but you have any way because you needed the money, or your parents made you have.

If you’ve never played a sport or had a “normal job” in your life then learning how to lose, to be selfless, and treat others with respect might be difficult concepts to fully grasp.

Instead, much of their job training has included the media’s sensationalized portrayal of tech CEO’s. Concepts like working through the night means you’re working hard, and that being an asshole means you’re being a good leader are popular nowadays.

You don’t have to be a dick to be respected in the workplace. If you’re going to highlight anything in this article, please let it be that.

Leadership is not just management, despite what The Lean Startup might say. If you have to prove you’re in charge, then you’re probably not in charge. Or at least not respected.

Which brings me to my first main point: the one and only trait all leaders need is respect from those around them. That’s it.

Gif Credit:

Respect is a hard trait to comprehend, so I don’t blame some founders/leaders/etc. for what they do.

If you only hear stories of Steve Jobs when he was chewing out an employee and not when he was uplifting them and encouraging them to be better versions of themselves, then it’s easy to misconstrue being an asshole for being respectable.

The truth is if you have to demand respect then you’ve already lost…

So how do you, as leader or employee, get respect from your team members at your workplace? Here are 6 answers to that question. Combine them, reassort them, add to them…

How to Get Respect:

1.) Admiration & Acknowledgment of Great Work

Gif Credit:

When your employees do a great job, let them know it. Don’t ever hesitate to let someone know their hard work is important and acknowledged.

Saying “good job” or giving someone a pat on the back can go a long way.

That’s not to say you should say this just to say it. If the work sucks then it sucks. Don’t bullshit anyone. But be sure to let others know when they create good work.

2.) Not Playing Favorites

There are few things worse than when employers play favorites. We’ve all been there before, and it’s shitty as hell. All this will do is cause resentment in the people involved and create a tense work environment.

Playing favorites has never worked. Favoritism in parenting creates kids like the Unabomber. Favoritism in business creates employees that hate you and eventually leave for better opportunities.

Side Note: Some make the case that playing favorites will cause the “friendly competition” between employees that’s healthy for business growth. I understand the point they’re making, but if you follow Point #1 above then friendly competition will take place because your team members will be competing to earn your love. Not because they’re scared you’ll sacrifice their first born child if they fuck up.

3.) Knowing Your Employees

Take some time to get to know your employees. If you are fortunate enough to be running a smaller startup, then take it a step further; don’t just know your employees, know your employee’s siblings, family, etc.

Show them that you give a shit. Not just a shit either, but a genuine shit.

If their older sister is getting engaged and going to law school in Chicago, then every once in a while ask how she’s doing. Is she liking it up there? Is she getting used to the cold weather yet? Is the restaurant scene as good as people say it is up there?

Grab a beer with your employees. Make them not think, but know that you care about them.

My Dad is a small business owner, and while his high-rise window cleaning company may not be the Airbnb or Google that most people reading this want to build, I can guarantee anybody from Brian Chesky to Larry Page would give him mad props on this: the retention and adoration of his workers.

He’s had the same guys working not for him, but with him, since he moved to California from Ohio back in 2005. He’s seen his worker’s kids grow up and begin to work for him.

You know why?

Because he was the kind of boss that would drive his worker’s kid to baseball practice. He was the boss who would give his workers a little extra cash if they needed more Christmas money. He was the boss that would invite his workers and their families over for Thanksgiving.

The principle he always told me was this: if you aren’t willing to wash the feet of your employees then they sure as hell won’t give you 40 hours of their hardest work.

While I’m not saying to get down on all fours and start scrubbing away some toe jam, the metaphor is 100% applicable and accurate in its principles. So follow it.

4.) Knowing When to Show Teeth

Gif Credit to

Now let’s not get this shit twisted. There’s such thing as being too buddy-buddy with your team members.

If they only want to goof around and consistently are not taking their work seriously, then it might be time to show some teeth.

There’s a million situations and even more highly-specific work dynamics that only you know about. So I won’t try and pretend to know it like other countless loads of content does.

Only you and your team members know your unique workspace dynamic.

That being said, if you feel like enough is enough and the time is right then you should lay down the hammer every once in a while. Show them who is in charge but in a loving way.

Kick your team into gear if they’re steering off course. Pump them up by reinvigorating the company’s vision and goals in them.

The truth is though, that if this happens repeatedly then it’s more likely a problem with the leader than it is the employees. So be savvy and self-aware enough in your role to know the difference.

*Note: This article is not trying to convey that to say employees are never in the wrong. You’ll have a couple bad eggs no matter who you are. But equipping yourself with these tools will help you become more aware of when it’s the employee and when it isn’t.

5.) Don’t Be So Insecure

Gif Credit:

Here’s some great news: you probably already have respect in the eyes of your employees, or at least more than you think you do.

So stop worrying that your employees are bad-talking you in the break room, because most likely they’re not.

There are a million strategies that will gain you respect but only a handful of ways to lose it: being callous to other’s feelings/needs, being a pushover, and lacking confidence in yourself.

If you’ve started a company others have bought into so much they’ve given up 40+ hours per week to contribute to it, you probably already have their respect.

Once you have that, then just be yourself. There are tons of ways to be a great leader and just as many leadership styles. If you are a funny guy/girl, make your employees laugh every once in a while. If you love Dungeons & Dragons, play it with your team.

Let down your walls. Don’t be so insecure. It’s not a good look.

6.) Get Your Hands Dirty

Make sure your coworkers see that you are working hard too. Don’t be too proud to do any job, whether that’s scrubbing the floors or picking up the company lunch. Drop your ego.

Why not hit your workplace with a curveball and pick up the coffee for your interns?

This is what my boss did for me at the first startup I interned for, and that one action immediately got me sold on the company. I was hooked.

Try something out for yourself! Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments below of more creative ways you could show your employees some love :)

With the fetishizing of the startup founder existing today, there are a great deal of misconceptions about being “the boss”. One is that people think that being the boss means having more freedom.

Well, it doesn’t. Quite the opposite. You are employed by your employees. You clock in and out for them. They need you. If you decide to give up, then they’re out of a job (at least for the time being).

If your employees are worth keeping at all, then they have more options than just your job.

So treat them like your equals and you’ll have their utmost respect. I guarantee it.

You don’t have to be Steve Jobs! Bill Gates isn’t Steve Jobs. President Obama isn’t Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t Steve Jobs.

Be yourself. Relax into your own leadership style. There is more than one way to be an amazing leader.

Good luck with your ventures, goals, and ambitions and thanks so much for reading!

If you liked what you read, then do me a huge favor and pound that Heart Button and I’ll love you forever :)

Also, give another one of my articles a read:

If you would like to learn more about this topic, social media marketing, video marketing, and more then shoot me an email at

If you just want to chat or ask any other questions, then hit me up at

I’d enjoy hearing from you. Have a great rest of the day! Thanks again :)

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Dakota Shane

Written by

I help make content marketing simple. Columnist: Co-Founder: Copy Buffs (a copywriting agency). Follow me on Twitter.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade