Robin Williams

Leaders and Authentic Respect

In the film "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987), Robin Williams plays the role of military radio DJ, Adrian Cronauer, who is summoned to Saigon at the beginning of the Vietnam War to use his brilliant humor to cheer up American troops. Williams' humor is so fast and fluid that by the time you start laughing at one joke he's already moved on to the next. As the story unfolds, Cronauer immediately becomes popular among the American soldiers, but his unconventional and controversial style upsets the stoic military system within which he works. Upset by his "irreverence," two of his superiors do everything they can to remove Cronauer from the airwaves.

One of the sub-plots is about respect. An Army officer opposed to Cronauer in the film, Lt. Steven Hauk, has a higher rank than his other colleagues at the radio station. But he has zero respect. As a result, his verbally forceful orders are received with wisecracks and put-downs. People make fun of him behind his back. No one salutes him. Even though Lt. Hauk tries to use his rank to control people, he ends up looking like a fool.

The film does a brilliant job of showing the difference between authentic respect and positional respect. According to the rules and regulations of the military, Lt. Hauk was in a position of respect. But he didn't have the character he needed to win the authentic respect of his peers.

True leadership in the workplace is difficult without authentic respect. So how does a leader develop authentic respect? This type of respect is entirely dependent on one's character.

In our book More Than Me we describe four foundational character traits that build respect between people, and therefore pave the way for greater unity.

  1. Integrity: to have a strong commitment to moral truth, honesty, and justice.
  2. Love: to actively serve others and seek to benefit others even when it requires personal sacrifice.
  3. Humility: to  place others in a higher position than ourselves.
  4. Forgiveness: to set an offender free from the demand to repay what's been unfairly taken from us, a deliberate choice to set another person free from judgment.

If a person has these character traits and lives accordingly, one of the natural results will be the authentic respect of others. Quality of leadership depends entirely on who we are at the core of our character. There are no short cuts.