There are over 7 billion people in the world. A single trait sets a small handful apart; celebrated and emulated individuals have earned something more valuable than gold. Aretha Franklin knows the answer—R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
You can command obedience, you can cause fear, you can buy services, but respect? You’ve gotta earn that. It’s such a heavy word, filled with reverence and awe. Like an oak tree, it doesn’t grow overnight. But intentionally and mindfully living in a way that cultivates respect is an investment that will yield more than money could ever buy.
Here are 10 habits from 10 respected leaders that are more than worth mirroring and cultivating:
1. Getting Out of the Mansion: Richard Branson
Respect may elevate you, but it’s found on the ground. High flying billionaire Branson is also down-to-earth. Richard constantly chats with passengers and crew, listening to opinions with notepad in hand. When a Virgin flight was delayed in San Francisco, the in-flight team took the drink cart out to the gate and offered complimentary drinks to passengers. Richard Branson picked up the phone and praised them for their creativity.
Respected people never let their success build walls of elitism. They’re more in the mud-hut than ivory tower.
It’s difficult to be respectable if you’re not accessible. Studies show that CEOs perceived as accessible and humble evoke greater productivity and job satisfaction from staff. Stepping out of the office to chat with staff is a small but significant act.
2. Never getting tired: Diana Nyad
At 64, most people have taken up knitting or gardening. Diana Nyad chose to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. She became the first person, of any age and gender, to accomplish the feat.
Respect came not only from the incredible feat of 53 hours of swimming that left her vomiting, badly sunburned and swollen from absorbing saltwater, but because it was her fifth attempt since 1978, when she was 29. After her failed fourth attempt, she admitted the swim may be impossible. But that didn’t stop her.
Respected people are unrealistic and relentless. As Roger Banister unrealistically broke the four-minute mile, Diana took the unrealistic goal, added her impossible age and achieved the unthinkable.
An unrelenting perseverance, and unforgiving attitude against the impossible is great recipe for respect.
3. Creating: Steve Jobs
Those who add value to growing industries are appreciated, but those who solve problems, revolutionize and create new industries get a bow of respect.
With Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple became synonymous with revolution: the iPod made CD players obsolete, the iPhone took smartphones to another level, the iPad set the stage for tablets. Jobs made headlines with his improvements, but made history with his innovations.
Revolutions and solutions equal respect. Don’t just look to add, look to solve.
4. All heart: Mark Cuban
As the saying goes, those who stand for nothing fall for everything. Respected people are passionate and unabashed about their beliefs. They shape people’s opinions rather than succumb to it. But when it comes to passion, there’s a fine line between obnoxious and outspoken. Kanye is supposed to be the bad guy, not Mark.
Cuban is clearly opinionated, yet lovable. The reason Cuban remains respected is that, unlike Kanye, it’s more authenticity than publicity. Whether he’s the shark throwing someone in the tank, shouting from the Maverick’s bench or shedding tears at a press conference, everything that’s public comes across as genuine. People respect that.
Public perception can cause many to put on a performance. Passion that stems from authenticity, rather than expectation, is respect.
5. Mingle with manners: Princess Diana
Everyone in leadership faces the challenge of countless people vying for their attention. The difference with Princess Diana was her obvious interest and engagement with all people, from HIV sufferers to the privileged. She said, “Everyone needs to be valued. Everyone has the potential to give something back.”
Although its impossible to converse with everyone, respected people acknowledge everyone. They don’t enter a group setting, shake hands with one or two and ignore the rest. We’ve all had that happen before and it's not a great feeling. It’s the modern version of getting picked last in third-grade baseball.
It’s not always intentional, however, respected people have that social awareness to be mindful in such situations. It’s important to acknowledge and greet everyone you meet in a group, look them in the eye and smile. It’ll mean more to the person than you realize, and it’ll gain you more respect than you realize.
6. Never take the bait: Bill Gates
Steve Jobs had some harsh words against Bill Gates: “Unimaginative and has never invented anything…he just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”
With plenty of accusations (and evidence) that Jobs was far from innocent, Gates had plenty of hypocritical ammo to fire back. However, when Gates was asked to respond, he did so with class, brushing off the criticism and even praised Jobs for his contributions.
It’s no surprise that Bill Gates tops a survey across 13 countries as the world’s most admired person. Reflective of his philanthropic work is this characteristic of responding to negatives with tact.
Marcus Aurelius said, “To refrain from imitation is the best revenge.” Exactly what Gates did, and we should.
7. Dismantling dramas: Michelle Obama
From her “unbecoming behavior” of doing push-ups on the Ellen show, to teaching middle-schoolers how to Dougie, Michelle’s breaks from the traditionally passive roles of the FLOTUS have won much adoration and respect.
While history is certainly there to be learned from, it doesn’t have to be imitated. Michelle’s unwillingness to fall into conformity has created an air of empowerment. She’s a constant catalyst for change with conversations on controversial topics such as the Trayvon Martin case.
In dissolving dogmas and confronting mainstream dramas, respected people enable and empower others while making new societal inroads. “That’s how it’s always been done” has never been a popular phrase. It takes courage to step outside of the mold, but respect comes as a result.
8. Consistent karma: Dalai Lama
More ironic than irony was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford cracking down on drug use while admitting to smoking crack. Respected people have a proven track record. History is littered with prominent figures rising to excellence only to crumble into scandal.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born in 1935 and started his monastic education at the age of 6. The path of devotion is no walk in the park; the world is a buffet of temptations and distractions. His dedication and consistency of character over decades makes him one of the most revered and respected people in the world. The 8-million reading his tweets trust that his Twitter reflects his temple.
Consistency between what we think, say and do, both when nobody is watching, and when everyone is watching, will produce respect. Trust and admiration is never found in contradictions.
9. Multiple endeavors: Arnold Schwarzenegger
It’s remarkable for anyone to reach the top of their field, but to step into an entirely different context and dominate, that’s respect with a capital “R.”
From bodybuilder, to Terminator, to governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger made it look easy. Respected people aren’t afraid to enter a new field, or put on a different hat. They not only set the bar higher, but set it wider.
When we outgrow our initial pursuit for success, the inability to take on something new creates a stagnancy that produces misery. While achieving success in different fields wins respect, the broadening of life experience alone is enough motivation to step into uncharted waters.
10. Sacrifice is key: Aung San Suu Kyi
With a military junta stifling her nation of Burma (Myanmar), political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi has become the adored catalyst for change.
During the violent clashes, thousands protesters were massacred. She rose to leadership fearlessly marching toward the military that was ordered to shoot. When she was presented with an opportunity to be freed from house arrest and return to England, she chose to stay and fight for her people’s rights.
Greatness and respect is synonymous with sacrifice. The road that’s absent of difficult decisions, of blood, sweat and tears leads to mediocrity.
This story originally appeared at Entrepreneur. Copyright 2014.