A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford

A supervisor burst into my husband’s office one morning, almost hysterical. “You’ve got to make those girls respect me!” she cried. “They don’t have any respect for me!”

Walt was the CEO of my father’s publishing house. Mrs. Clark (I’ll call her) was the supervisor of the subscription department. The department seemed to have functioned well under her direction for several years, so he was surprised at her outburst.

“Sit down, Mrs. Clark, and tell me what’s wrong.”

“The girls in my department disrespect me.”

“I respect you,” he answered, “and you’ve certainly earned the respect of other department heads. Why do you think your employees don’t respect you? Have they disobeyed your instructions? If so, follow company policy and write it up.” The company had a simple, fair and honorable protocol for assessing an employee’s apparent failure.

“No, no, nothing I can put on paper. I’m not complaining about their work.”

“Then why do you feel they disrespect you?”

“Just by the look in their eyes. As manager, it’s your responsibility to fix it.”

Walt firmly believed that every human being deserves respect simply because we were all created in the image of God Himself. Everyone has certain rights regardless of their age, their color of skin, their culture, their intelligence, their financial situation.

But above that, Walt also knew he could not command employees to respect Mrs. Clark. Respect must be earned, not demanded. A person in authority—parent, employer, elected official or spiritual leader—cannot depend on his job description to demand respect. It must be earned.

So Walt compassionately suggested several things that would help Mrs. Clark regain the respect of her staff—obvious things like: Keep your word. Walk the talk. Listen. Honor and respect them. Keep in mind the ultimate purpose and value of the job. Care about them and work for their welfare.

There’s a beautiful expression of this in Psalm 15 (nlt). King David asked the Lord, “Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?” God answered him:

Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Those who refuse to slander others or harm their neighbors,
or speak evil of their friends.
Those who despise persistent sinners,
and honor the faithful followers of the LORD
and keep their promises even when it hurts.

The Psalm ends with this wonderful promise: “Such people will stand firm forever.” And, we could add, they will have earned the respect of those whose judgement they value.

There’s a happy outcome to this tale of long-ago events: Mrs. Clark did earn the respect of her employees, and they together did some great work for the cause of Christ. That’s what happens when people honor God and each other.

And that’s what the people in my life need to see in me. And, perhaps, in you?