- Posted by Dennis Morris
- On May 16, 2017
- 0 Comments
“Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect. We must each respect others even as we respect ourselves.” U Thant
A number of years ago I met a senior VP about developing a leadership program for six of his department managers. As we talked about each department we developed a grid to compare levels of creativity, teamwork, morale, performance, quality of work, safety, absenteeism, and employee retention trends from one department to the next. As could be expected, some departments scored higher than others. But Gabe’s department had significantly negative scores in every area we reviewed. Gabe was highly regarded by the VP, and the VP was dismayed by the findings.
As a follow-up I interviewed employees and managers throughout the six departments. I presented my results to the VP, and the more we examined the data the more we realized that the single most important variable differentiating one department from the next was respect. Leaders who treated their colleagues, employees and customers with respect were far more effective and successful than leaders who did not. The employees who reported to Gabe had a fountain of information and an endless list of examples of how he had treated them with contempt, scolded them needlessly, embarrassed them in front of their peers, bullied them and took credit for their ideas and suggestions to improve quality and efficiency in their weekly team meetings.
I’ve spoken with hundreds of employees who told me how emotionally painful and intimidating it was to work under leaders who treated them with disrespect. They told of micro managers who spied on them, criticized their work by humiliating them, failed to praise or appreciate them and seldom showed any gratitude for their hard work. These managers played favorites, took the glory for their employees’ successes, bullied them, rarely communicated, and didn’t know them individually or realize the quality of work they did.
Many said the stress impaired their health. Employees spoke about losing sleep, taking extra sick time and turning to anti-anxiety medication in order to cope with disrespectful managers. Some counted the days until retirement, others hoped to transfer to another department or searched for a better employer and most were living with an exhausting sense of hopelessness because they believed upper management would not take any action to change those leaders who treated them with contempt.
One employee seemed to sum up the experiences of many:
Joe’s been with the company for over twenty years and I guess upper management think he’s doing a great job because they haven’t done anything to change him. Sometimes we joke that he must have something on the CEO. We have trainings on leadership, trust, constructive communication and teamwork but it seems ridiculous because Joe is allowed to do anything he wants. He yells at people, belittles them, treats everyone as if they’re worthless. He’s just not trustworthy. Almost everyone is afraid of him. He can’t keep managers who report directly to him because he humiliates and micro manages them. A lot of good people have quit because of him but he’s still here. So what does that tell you about senior leadership and our culture?
Again and again I have heard negative narratives like that—in non-profit organizations, family businesses, corporations and universities—stories of people being bullied and treated with contempt. But thankfully I have also heard positive stories, of employees being treated with integrity and respect.
Those stories demonstrate on both an intellectual and emotional level the power of respect—and the pitfalls when respect is absent. They capture the links between respect and morale and ultimately performance. When employees, partners or colleagues feel respected they will give their best and they push themselves to contribute more than they imagined they could.
Those stories helped to shape my realization that an atmosphere of respect was the decisive difference between successful organizations with excellent customer service, great leaders and super teams and those organizations that seem to struggle endlessly with performance problems, morale issues, turmoil, internal conflicts, the steady drain of good employees and intractable teamwork problems. That realization led me to develop my practice around the theme of teaching clients how to nurture and sustain cultures of respect.
For most of us, respect is difficult to categorize and measure. Yet the word is becoming increasingly common in our more complex and enriched multicultural world. In some ways respect seems invisible. We know it’s there but we can’t actually see it, just as we don’t see the wiring, glue, mortar, wood frames and steel rods behind the walls and under the floors that keep our homes and buildings standing and safely anchored to solid ground.
All people deserve to be treated with respect regardless of their politics, religious beliefs, disability, age or ethnic or cultural heritage. Respect does not have to be earned or negotiated or given with conditions. No matter how you may differ from me, I have a responsibility to treat you with respect.
Respect is guided and sustained by principles, behaviors and actions. We demonstrate respect first by demonstrating sincere interest in others and by our ability to show them through empathy that we understand them, their emotions, their aspirations, their ideas and their perspectives. We also show respect by using powerful and engaging forms of communication, by displaying a robust and compassionate spirit of collaboration, by having the competence to do what we say we will do, and by letting others know our appreciation for them and their contributions.
Those principles are easy to get your arms around on an intellectual level but may be difficult to apply in your day-to-day actions, policies and words. At LSR our purpose is to provide you with the know-how to use practices of respect in your daily personal and professional relationships—in exchanges and communications with your families, friends, co-workers, employees and of course your customers. They don’t live in training manuals, books or tablets. They live with you in the real world where every interaction is an opportunity to treat others with integrity and respect.