In my last article at Generalleadership.com, I wrote about how integrity is the very foundation of leadership. Extending that analogy, if Integrity is the “foundation” then Respect is the “walls” of a well-led organization.
So, what does “Respect” mean for a leader, and how does a leader create a culture of respect in the organization?
In my mind, the four walls of “Respect” are: (1) the inherent dignity each human person has simply by virtue of being a human being, (2) the respect each leader must earn through their actions, (3) the respect for each others’ views and values leaders must require, and (4) the respect for the organization leaders must create. We’ll take each one in turn.
First and foremost, each person is due respect as a human being. Each person has inherent dignity and worth and shares in the common dignity of all persons. This view is common in most moral/religious systems and even enshrined in “foundational” documents like the US Declaration of Independence (We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, endowed with their Creator with certain inalienable rights.) and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights). Human beings have the right to expect to be treated at least politely and at best with genuine respect simply because they’re human. Respect shouldn’t depend on a person’s status, wealth, or position. Put another way, we treat people with respect because they are people. Treating people according to the law, moral or civil, is good leadership because it engenders trust and leaders cannot lead without it.
Second, leaders have to model the behavior they expect of their team. In the military, we use the term “walk the talk” for this idea. Leaders cannot expect subordinates to do what they are unwilling to do themselves. By modeling the ethics and respect for others we demand from our teams, leaders can set the example. As a friend of mine, Colonel Kurt Bergo, once said, “the first task of leaders is to lead.” Believe me, people are much more likely to follow someone they see is willing to “walk the talk” than someone they perceive as a “do as I say not as I do” leader. That’s why good leaders share in the trials of those they lead and always set the example for their teams.
Third, leaders have to require their teammates to treat each other with respect. That begins with common courtesy but extends beyond simply being polite to a culture where people are truly valued for their individual worth and personal dignity rather than merely endured. A culture of respect has the effect of creating a cohesive team because it reduces the barriers to communication between teammates and increases trust. Beyond a “morale maintenance” tool, creating a culture of respect helps teams perform at higher levels. When people feel comfortable with their teammates, valued and respected, they are more likely to stretch in their work. When trust between teammates is a given, and people believe they’re respected by the people they work with, that comfort level translates to a cohesive team.
Fourth, leaders have to encourage respect for the organization they’re leading. If a person can’t respect the organization they work for, then they need to get another organization. Like respect between persons, the highest performing teams have a great deal of organizational pride. There’s as many ways generate that organizational pride as there are organizations, but there are a few common threads. Unifying “artifacts” like uniforms & logos, vision statements, and company policy like hiring/recognition policies help people identify and respect their organization. These sorts of things, be they as modest as a nametag and as all-encompassing as military uniforms, have a unifying effect and create a sense of “family” and “belonging.” The effect is that people have something tangible to attach their loyalty and respect. In short, if the organization treats people with respect and it’s right to expect that respect will be returned.
Respect, both for each other and for the institution is critical to leading a team, even a high performing one, to high performance. It also ensures trust and cohesion. Respect should be our watchword as leaders.