How to Earn Employees' Respect

Tips for managing employees when you take over the family business

By Dr. David G. Javitch • Jun 2, 2003

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I recently took over the family business from my father. What do I need to do to earn the respect of employees who've been with the company for years--employees who used to be my co-workers in the company?

A: The simple and most powerful answer is to establish your own credibility. You already have "position" power because you've been appointed to a high-level position in the organizational hierarchy, thanks to your father. However, that will only get you as far as your first challenging interaction with former peers. At that point, you succeed or fail on your own.

Here's why you might fail or why your former peers may not support you:

  • Many may resent your promotion, especially since they may believe they and others are more qualified than you are and should have received the promotion instead.
  • They do not necessarily believe you can handle the new role, or certainly not as well as your father did.
  • You got the position only because you're the boss' "kid."
  • You may reprimand them or hold them accountable for doing the very things you may have done when you were "one of the gang."

So what can you do about it? I often suggest several ways to build your own credibility and power base:

  • Accept the fact that you will have doubters and detractors. Don't wallow in it, but do get on with showing people why you deserve the role you're in.
  • Be honest with what you know and don't know. Most employees can smell a bluff or a lie in seconds, so be truthful in your responses. If you don't know something, then go find the answer and attribute the solution to its owner.
  • Demonstrate your competency--the knowledge, skills and abilities that prove you deserve your new responsibilities and power.
  • Make sure your behaviors and words serve as a role model for others.
  • Build rapport and goodwill with others. You must go beyond simply being a nice, charismatic boss; you must continually demonstrate your worth as a leader, director, delegator, problem-solver and developer of outcomes, people and procedures.
  • Identify your goals and include other trusted and responsible employees in a discussion about them and in finalizing them. Involve these individuals in a concrete and energetic process to ensure that these goals are accomplished in a timely manner. Make sure to create milestones and rewards for meeting this challenge. In the process of demonstrating your trustworthiness and credibility, make sure employees see you as being open to their opinions and comments, and respectful of even the most foolish ideas. Show that you have a willingness to listen and value the input of others.
  • And finally, involve some of your most vocal detractors in your inner circle to show them by your actions how and why you deserve to be in your position. That's one of the best ways to win them over to your side and allow them to spread that news to others!
Dr. David G. Javitch

Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.

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