Every leader wants to be respected. But respect is something that has to be freely given by your followers. You can’t demand it, you can only command it, earn it.

Not getting respect may be frustrating at times, especially for young leaders who may perceive this as an attack on their leadership, a personal affront even. They will often respond by demanding respect, mostly based on the fact that they have a certain position (‘I am the small group coordinator so I make the decisions, not you’) That’s completely understandable, but it’s also a sign of immature leadership.

Getting respect from your followers takes time and effort, but it’s well worth the investment. Once you’ve gained the trust from your followers, you’ll find it makes leading them a whole lot easier.


But how to command respect from those you lead? I’ve found acting out this verse day-by-day made a big difference:

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3, 4 NKJV)

Here are five lessons to learn from that verse in how we should lead:

1. Be honest

Don’t use manipulation or conceit to get your way. Be open and honest about where you want to go and try to persuade people to come with you based on vision, not deceit or force. Don’t play out people against each other, make them choose sides or spiritually manipulate people to support you. Be very, very critical of your own ambitions and constantly search your heart to check your motives (Psalm 139:23, 24).

2. Be humble

Don’t ever forget that you are a leader by the grace of God. It has God who deserves all the glory, you’re just a vessel in His hands. Treat your leadership as a gift, not an entitlement. The minute you feel you deserve certain things because of your leadership role, is the minute you’ve become proud.

3. Admit your failures

You may feel this is a sign of weakness, but it’s actually a sign of strength. Having the courage to admit your mistakes honestly or to say you were wrong and change your mind is a great way of gaining your followers’ trust. They see you’re not pretending to be perfect or better than them, not covering up your mistakes and that will go a long way in making them respect you.

4. Be unfailingly kind

Being a leader doesn’t equal being harsh, judgmental or mean. Even when you disagree with people, even when you have to make decisions that don’t have the majority’s support, be kind. You can say no to people without making it personal. You can give negative feedback without being harsh. You can oppose someone and still be cordial. Don’t make fun of people, talk behind their backs ot humiliate them in front of others. Respect them and treat them with kindness, even when you disagree or when they’re acting stupid. Show love and grace in all your contact with other people, treat them as Jesus would have treated them.

5. Put others first

There’s a lot of buzz going around the Internet right now about the shameful actions of the captain of the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that ran aground in Italy a few days ago. Captain Schettino allegedly abandoned ship long before all the passengers were evacuated and refused to reboard even after a direct order from the coast guard.

As a leader, you have to put the interest of others first. You’re the captain, you don’t just abandon ship when disaster strikes. The safety and well being of your passengers is your first priority. But even when you’re in calm waters, you protect your crew, your passengers first and foremost. You don’t do anything that could possibly harm them.

In youth ministry terms that means making decisions that are beneficial to your team of leaders and volunteers and to your youth. But it also means changing your perspective and your language from ‘I’ to ‘we’. Take a team approach and talk about ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead of just yourself. Invest in great relationships with your team, not because that benefits you, but out of genuine interest in who they are.

How have you gained the respect of those you lead? Would you add anything to this list?