A recent Harvard Business Review article described respect as the MOST important leadership behavior to employees.
Christine Porath surveyed over 20,000 employees and found that even when leaders know this is important, they struggle to show respect for their employees. Additionally, her research shows that civility, vs. incivility, pays dividends not just in the morale of the employees, but also to the bottom line.
Why is respect so hard for leaders to show? I think a lot of it has to do with our biases about what a strong or good leader should look like. We want them to be strong, decisive and “right.” This doesn’t leave any room for vulnerability and the possibility of being wrong. So the “do what I say” mask comes on and the kings and queens of the workforce get to work. The imposter syndrome is alive and well in the leadership of our workplaces, large and small.
Start By Listening
Leaders who show respect for their employees start by listening. Really listening. Getting feedback and caring about what people are thinking and saying about him or her and the company. Not paying attention to the gossip, but focused on the feedback that matters. Some type of anonymous survey is a great place to start, but you don’t have to wait for the survey. Take some employees out to lunch, ask your direct reports for feedback, and most importantly, don’t interrupt or start playing your answers or excuses in your head while they are still talking. You’re likely to miss what they say. Put your formerly “recorded messages,” (or habitual thinking), out of your head and really actively listen. It’s a necessary skill for good leaders to have.
Another way to learn is to hire a coach. Get someone who is familiar with executive coaching and can give you an unbiased view of how you really seem to others. As the leader, we don’t often get candid feedback because most everyone reports to us and they are afraid to be truly honest. Make it safe by hearing about your areas of improvement from a coach. It will help you be more open and receptive when you hear it for a second time from others. Humility is a good thing. (It can be a great thing.) In fact, Jim Collins cites it as one of the pillars of a great leader.
Leading is about learning and learning is about having permission to make mistakes and learn from them. As a leader, learning to show respect for your employees can pay huge intrinsic and extrinsic benefits both individually and organizationally. As you learn to respect your people, you will also gain some insight into your own self-respect. Remember, you don’t need everyone to like you, or to hate you, to be considered a good leader, but you do need them to respect you.