Treating everyone with respect is the foundation of good leadership. Employees who feel disrespected are also more likely to feel excluded or even inferior. The authors offer seven characteristics, based on their analysis of data collected from more than 4,500 employees, that lead to a demonstration and feeling of respect. These include valuing diversity, staying in touch with individuals’ issues and concerns, building trust, resolving conflicts, balancing outcomes with others’ concerns, encouraging open discussion, and give honest feedback. Genuinely and consistently implementing these behaviors will help you establish a culture of respect and support.
There is one ethos that underlies all good leadership: treat everyone with respect. This is the basic foundation of any relationship, and yet many managers struggle to articulate it.
The data we collected in 2022 from 4,849 employees showed that only 4% felt disrespected, while 86% felt respected. At first blush, this is encouraging. Those seem like good numbers. However, in our view, 4% is too high. That’s roughly one in 25 colleagues who feel disrespected, that they don’t belong, or perhaps feel inferior. That’s hard to imagine people who feel this way can do their best work or reach their potential.
How can managers and leaders show respect more consistently? Our research provides some hints on everyday actions that increase feelings of respect.
The Behaviors That Earn the Most Respect
We create correlation coefficients between individual behavior and ratings from their followers on respect. These coefficients measure, across multiple leaders, the extent to which a negative score on a particular leadership behavior is connected to lower respect ratings. In contrast, more positive scores on that behavior for another leader indicate more positive respect scores. The larger the correlation coefficient, the stronger the connection between behavior and respect, which led to the conclusion of their colleagues that they were treated with respect. This helped us identify seven leadership behaviors that lead to the overall impression of respectful treatment.
A common theme we hear from those who feel disrespected is that “I’m different” or “I don’t deserve it.” Many leaders actively work hard to hire team members from diverse backgrounds, check their unconscious biases, and make sure they are open to hearing different perspectives and opinions. opinion. Some go through the motions believing they treat everyone the same, never realizing their glaring blind spots. Amua first research shows that many leaders underestimate or overrate their skills in this area.
To build the foundation of respect, leaders must realize that they cannot do everything they can to show that they value diversity, and make it clear that differences are valued.
Continue to Communicate Issues and Concerns with Individuals
Even if you’re not at work to meet your best friend, you need to maintain a level of familiarity to establish respect. If you are the last to know about an employee or colleague who is struggling, you may be tempted to excuse that as one of the difficulties of being a leader. After all, how do you know what’s going on with everyone, especially when power imbalances create social distance?
Actually, you can’t. But you should make an effort to communicate that you are there for employees who want to share sensitive issues or deep concerns. Make it a goal to stay in touch with people as much as you can, to check in on how they’re doing, and repeat your commitment to support them when needed. Ask questions like, “Do we make it possible for you to balance your work and your personal life?” or “How is your family at this time?” can invite a more personal conversation.
Continuing to interact with people in this way conveys respect. While listening to a worker think about his relationship with his favorite boss, we asked why he thanked his boss and his answer was, “He calls me when he doesn’t need anything.” Those occasional phone calls where the boss expressed concern only about him and his well-being made all the difference.
In our research about trust, we discovered that if one person on your team doesn’t trust you, it can significantly reduce the level of trust from the rest of the team. It is an emotion that is contagious.
We know that trust is enhanced by three factors: positive relationships, skill/knowledge sharing, and consistency. When you respect people, regardless of their background, language, culture, religion, or sexual orientation, you improve your relationship, which further increases others’ trust in you.
Even a small conflict between a few team members can negatively affect the energy of an entire group and become a source of frustration that encourages feelings of disrespect. Often, when leaders sense conflict between group members, they promise not to intervene — “I’ll let them resolve the conflict themselves; I don’t need to be involved” — but they don’t always use that approach.
Selective peacemaking expresses respect for some and disrespect for others. Conflicts in a team are like a small forest fire that, if caught early, can be extinguished easily but, if ignored, can cause great damage. Leaders must resolve conflicts quickly when they occur. A respectful leader does not back down but willing to participate in the resolution of conflicts.
Balancing “Getting Results” with Concern for Others
When results become more important than the people who deliver them, people feel disrespected. In most situations, this only requires making small exceptions for people (if children get sick, accidents happen, or someone needs a mental health break), but the impact on satisfaction and engagement can be significant.
The best leaders balance taking the results with the realities faced by the people who make them. Organizations and leaders must listen to requests to build a culture that supports a better work-life balance. “You can’t freeze and unfreeze culture as needed – it’s captured every day, and not just in one way, but through people processes, commitments, manager accountability, who you recruit, and whom you reward,” WROTE Microsoft Chief People Officer Kathleen Hogan.
Encourage Open Discussion of Problems and Differences of Opinions
The simple act of asking someone for their opinion is a powerful way to communicate respect. But you can’t ask – you also have to listen and participate. When a leader is willing to listen to different perspectives and explore problems that concern others, they show that they value team members. You don’t have to think the issue is important (you might think it’s trivial) or that their perspective is valid to do so. But bypassing those reactions to actually listening and asking questions conveys respect.
You can further develop respect by actively listening to opinions that differ from yours. This means, “I am open to another way of thinking and I want to understand more” and “I give you high regard even though we have different views.”
Give Honest Feedback in a Helpful Way
Direct and honest feedback makes people feel respected, as long as it is given in the right way. It should fairly reflect human performance. If an employee does 90% of their work right and 10% wrong, honest feedback will be 90% positive and only 10% corrective. In many cases, leaders give 0% positive and 10% corrective feedback, which means that all the leader cares about or notices are mistakes or errors. This focus on negative behavior – without balancing it with positive feedback as well – makes people feel disrespected.
Of course, respect can mean different things to different people, and the people you lead may care more about some of these behaviors than others. The key is to consider all seven, then pick one or two that you believe are important to your employees, and find real ways to create more of those behaviors.
Great leaders are highly respected, but most of all, they take intentional, conscious steps to show respect to their employees.