"Any fool can buy a car, but you can’t buy respect."
-Robert Crais, Free Fall
You can’t buy respect. You have to earn it.
There are some jobs where hierarchy and status mean that everyone below you more or less does as you tell them. I imagine the armed forces work like this, and the police (although TV is littered with rogue detectives who operate outside the system and get results).
Then there are other workplaces where the hierarchy isn’t as clear, or even if it is a title does not necessarily mean people do as you tell them.
Whatever the system, however lofty a title or a position in a hierarchy, it means nothing without respect. And respect can’t be bestowed as a title can. It must be earned.
Some people approach their job yearning for status, believing that they could just get so much more achieved with a better place in the hierarchy. Often they are doomed for disappointment. When that well deserved promotion comes, they might be faced with the fact that still no-one "below" them does as they are told.
In media and adland disrespect for hierarchy is not that rare. Many would argue that it is healthy in an industry that has to survive disruption and constantly reinvent itself. If you don’t challenge the status quo you don’t get growth, especially now. A good media sector culture will tolerate a reasonable level of challenge, in fact thrives on it, and that includes challenging status as well as status quo.
Respect, however – that’s another thing. Respect can’t be bought. It isn’t bestowed by a title or a promotion. It has to be earned.
There’s a resounding example of this doing the rounds at the moment. Dave Trott wrote a memo on paper 30 years ago about the creativity of his team at ad agency GGT. One team member kept the memo and showed it to a colleague who posted it last week on Facebook. The content of the memo is, if he won’t mind me saying so, typical of Dave. He believes difference is crucial to stand out, that most ads disappear as wallpaper and that it is as important now to break with convention as it ever was. Three decades ago Trott said: "Instead of trying to be totally different to what’s around we’re more often nowadays concerned with trying to do the same thing but better."
As well as ads many communications strategies fall into this trap, aping the competition but trying to beat them rather than doing something completely different. To answer the brief that has been given well rather than differently. How many conversations are had about how to win Christmas like brand X (insert name of well known retailer here) rather than by doing things that haven’t been done before?
What shines out for me about this though is not just the lesson of difference, of zigging when everyone else is zagging, but the level of respect that this shows for a great creative director and a great boss. Campaign reports Trott said that the memo had been kept by a former staffer at GGT, Andy Archer, who now teaches at art school and who had shown it to his colleague Roger Stanier, who posted it on social media. They add: "His words, which in spite of their age appear to be as pertinent today as they were then, have clearly struck a chord with the ad industry."
Respect, you can’t buy it. You can’t control whether people give it to you, not really. It doesn’t go along with a title or a status. It doesn’t correlate with how many people report into you, what your bonus is or how many followers you have on social media.
Respect is hard earned and given freely, and it lasts.
Sue Unerman is the chief transformation officer of MediaCom