Can You Lead An Employee Who Doesn’t Respect You?

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How To Lead An Employee Who Doesn't Respect You:

  1. Assess: Are you feeling disrespected or is this employee displaying disruptive behavior?
  2. Determine: If the issue is your ego, let it go. If the behavior is bad for the whole team, it’s time to talk.
  3. Give the feedback: If the behavior is disruptive, sit them down and give them constructive criticism.
  4. Use B.I.G: (Behavior: detail the behavior with judgment, Impact: describe the effect it has, and Get agreement: discuss how things will change.)

Let’s imagine you have an employee who doesn’t respect you. They’re not rude, mean, or dismissive. You just get the distinct sense that they don’t really respect your authority.

What do you do?

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Well, here’s the no-holds-barred truth: It doesn’t matter if your employee respects you.

I’m sure many of our readers will find this to be a particularly difficult pill to swallow. There’s an expectation of respect when we become leaders. We hope our titles will command attention and give us our due. This is simply not the case.

Respect, like promotions, fitness, or friendships, must be earned.

I’m not saying you haven’t earned it—on the contrary, you might be great at your job. But this does not mean everyone will commend you for it, or respect you unconditionally. We are leaders of people, and for reasons unknown, not all people will like or respect their bosses.

Let me put it this way: As long as work is getting done and goals are being met, then your desire for respect is coming from a personal desire, not a professional one.

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If you have an employee that can be described as “stubborn,” “rude,” or “disruptive,” then you have a solid case to sit them down and give them some much-needed feedback about their behavior.

The key point is parsing whether you’re feeling disrespected or if the employee’s behavior is actually disruptive. The latter needs addressing, the former requires self-awareness.

There’s a difference between an employee not respecting you and unacceptable behavior. Disruptive behaviors should always be addressed. However, if the only thing that’s being disrupted is your own ego, then the problem lies with you and not your direct report.

It can be painful to feel as though the members of our team do not think highly of us. We’re human, after all, and it’s natural to want admiration.

But don’t let your personal hang-ups ruin a perfectly good working relationship! Especially if the particular employee in question is a competent, focused, and productive member of your team. Having a self-starter for an employee is an amazing gift!

If the work is excellent, then what’s there to change? So they don’t seem too fond of you, big deal. It hurts, but you aren’t there to make sure everyone appreciates you. You’re there to lead your team to the best of your ability, to coach and guide them to become better employees, and to achieve company goals.

The issue of a team member not warming to you is entirely personal. If you’d like, you can always ask if they feel unchallenged lately and would want to take on more responsibility.

If you trust their work and knowledge, maybe the best solution is to give them more exciting work. You might find that trusting this team member with greater tasks leads them to come to you more often with questions.


Lead An Employee Who Doesn't Respect You

If the work they turn in isn’t flawless and requires guidance that they aren’t asking for, there’s nothing wrong with requesting they keep you updated via e-mail (or whatever your preferred form of office communication is) as they go along.

As for disruptive or rude behavior, sit them down and use the think B.I.G. methodology.

First, describe the behavior as factually as possible without imposing your interpretation. “This morning I noticed you rolled your eyes after I suggested you team up with Steve,” is harder to debate than “You were irritated this morning when we spoke.” We aren’t mind readers, and thinking we are is often when we fall into trouble.

Second, detail the impact the behavior can have on yourself, the team, or the company. “I worry this comes across as you being disrespectful, and could make it less appealing for your teammates to work with you.”

Third and finally, time to open up the discussion on how things can change from this point on. “Are you aware of how this comes across? Is this something you can take care of?”


Coming to terms with an employee who doesn't respect you is a difficult process. Do a gut check with these questions the next time those feelings flare-up:

What did this person do that upset you? Is it disruptive to the team or values? No? Then leave it.

Did it make your work life easier or harder? Easier? Great, then leave it.

Is this about the work or is it about the person? The person? Then it’s not your business, and you should leave it.

Get clear on what’s motivating you. Speaking to a direct report in private over a perceived personal slight is not really a good look.

You don’t need to be respected or liked, you need to lead. Lead the work, and lead the team. At the end of the day, if all goals are met, isn’t that what you’re working toward?

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at