You earn the respect of others when you give others the respect they deserve. Mutual respect, regardless of your position, opens the door to meaningful connections. When we adhere to roles inherent to our position, relationships cannot transcend traditional boundaries and limits the potential to be a real and positive influence in the life of another. It is not the title or job we hold, but rather it is who we are and how we treat others that define our character and our approach to working with others. When we invite others to engage in an authentic manner, we build relationship and become accessible to others. Having an open door policy is a necessary requisite; however, the invitation to connect only seems plausible when the person behind the door is seen as open and approachable. It is this ability to connect with others that is one of the key components of accessibility leadership and mentorship.
During my tenure in higher education, I have had the opportunity to interact with thousands of students. My job as a professor is to impart knowledge and facilitate learning; yet it is what I have learned from my students that has shaped my work and my ideologies. Sometimes the most powerful ideas are the simple ones directly in front of us. We just need to open our eyes and open ourselves up to seeing the potential within ourselves and others. And, most importantly, realize and embrace the importance of developing real and meaningful relationships. The basic tenet of any relationship is built on mutual respect. We connect with others when we are real, respectful, open, genuine and approachable – qualities necessary for accessibility. These qualities are essential to be an effective leader, teacher or mentor. Having held each of these roles in various capacities, experience has taught me that it is the person and not the position that has influence. While the position may provide opportunities to interact with others, it is the individual who seizes the chance to connect and be a person of influence.
The position and title one has, while fundamental to structure and function, often can be a detriment in relationships. We, as educators or leaders, can easily get caught up in our title and assign unnecessary importance to the position. When doing so, we often hide behind the title which in turn becomes a barrier rather than means of working towards a partnership. The teacher commanding the classroom without disruption or interaction, the leader imparting orders without input and collaboration, the mentor providing guidance and advice without knowing the person or the issue. These scenarios, unfortunately, are all too often the norm rather than the exception.
I have too often witnessed colleagues talking to college students as if they were talking to a child – in a condescending tone and an authoritarian manner. When we treat others as children, they are more likely to respond and act in childish ways. When we treat others as partners in the process and show them genuineness, they respond in kind. Then, the connection becomes real and without boundaries. We can only become a person of influence when we break down the wall and barrier a title or position can bring. We become a person of influence when we see our work as a collaboration and a partnership; and value and respect others regardless of roles. Give respect, value the person, expect the best, and demand more. You may be pleasantly surprised by the response.
As a mentor to emergent student leaders and professionals in higher education over the years, I have been a conduit of feedback to others. My advice is simple. Be respectful, value the person, strive to connect, be yourself and be present in the moment. When we do this, others will willingly walk through the door. Who knows – your student or mentee may someday become a person of influence for others.