Monday, September 28, 2009

How Do You Spell R-E-S-P-E-C-T as a Leader?

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T….Find out what it means to me.”
Aretha Franklin

The value of respect has been a subject of the news lately, featuring rapper Kanye West and congressman Joe Wilson.

John Spence just wrote a guest post for Great Leadership on the most important skills needed by global leaders, respect being one of them.

If you were to take a look at 100 corporate value statements, I guarantee you’d find the word “respect” on at least 90% of them. Respect usually ends up high on the list of those “what do employees value most” lists. Every wants and deserves a little respect at work, especially from our leaders.

So what does it mean to show respect as a leader?

R = Relationships. Do you have a transactional relationship with your employees? That is, you pay them X dollars, and they give you Y amount of work? Are they just another “human resource” to you? Or have you taken the time to cultivate a relationship, based on mutual respect and support?

E = Everyone counts, no matter who they are, at any level in the organization. Great leaders don’t selectively dole out respect, in a way that serves their own agendas. Want to judge the true character of a leader? Watch how they treat the cleaning people. I’ll never forget looking out the window and seeing the CEO of my former company in the parking lot, with the building’s cleaning crew gathered around him. While I couldn’t hear the conversation, it was very apparent that he was engaged in a lively discussion, they were laughing, and he looked like he was listening intently.
One of my favorite VPs said he learned this from his experience growing up around his father, who was a handyman for the rich and famous. He saw the way his father was often treated, and vowed if he ever ended up in a position of power, he would always treat everyone with a high degree of respect.

S = Support your employees. This means making sure they are paid fairly, are given the resources needed to do their jobs, barriers are removed, and sponsorship is obtained for their work. When they succeed, let everyone know. When they screw up, cover their backsides.

P = Please and thank-you. As a manager, you don’t have to ask your employees to do anything – you can simply order them. As a leader, if you treat them as if they do have a choice, they’ll end up exceeding your expectations. Saying thanks and showing sincere appreciation is another way to show respect. Most managers think they do a good job at this…. most employees think they don’t. Try doing it until it feels like overkill, and then you can pull back if people start complaining (it’s never happened).

E = Encourage every employee to grow and develop, in order to reach their full potential. Be a coach, a mentor, and a teacher. Set aside time on a regular basis for career and development discussions. Help your employees become more that they thought they could ever become. Better yet, help them become greater than yourself.

C = Care. That’s right, care about your employees (some would say love them, although that sounds a bit extreme for me). Care about their success at work, their families, their health, their goals, and their satisfaction. Here’s a test: do you know the names of your employee’s children? Do you give them a card on their birthday? What’s the first thing you do you do when an employee or family member becomes seriously ill? Ask how soon they can get back to work, because there are important project deadlines that can’t be missed? Or organize a food basket drive?

T = Treat people how they want to be treated (the platinum rule), not how you want to be treated (the golden rule).


Tony Thekkekara said...

Great post, I really like the 'T' from respect. I have always been mindful of treating others the way I want to be treated, but individuals are different, and need to be treated the way they want independently. It seems like certain people only show respect to those they feel earn it. Others show their respect until they believe it is undeserved or they are disrespected. How do you deal with a coworker that refuses to show you respect within an organization?

Wally Bock said...

Fabulous post, Dan. There's lots of good stuff here, and a lot of it comes under the simple heading of treating all people like valuable people: not like machines, not like problems, not like alien life-forms, like valuable people.

Patrick D. Kelley said...

What an excellent post—in fact, I think it should be required reading for anyone assuming a leadership position at any business or organization. I think all of your points are excellent, but I really like that you remind employers and leaders that everyone counts. I think this is something a lot of people overlook. People forget that everyone—from top management to the cleaning crew—plays an important role in helping a business function and succeed. If one part falters, that can and will spiral and start to drag everything else down. That is why your point is so important. It is not hard to engage with everyone, regardless of their position at the company, but it can make a huge difference in how people feel about their jobs and how they feel about you as a leader. If people are happy and feel like you respect and care about them, then they are going to enjoy their jobs more and, as a result, will do better work.

Elijah Edwards said...


All really good stuff, I especially like the last comment of treating people how they want to be treated. Every employee is different and as a leader you have to understand those differences and lead accordingly. Many times I feel like managers treat all employees the same like cattle, not allowing them to reach there full potential. Respecting people seems common sense but in my current work environment there is plenty of room for improvement in this category, any ideas on how to push the concept onto my fellow managers without getting on a soap box?

Dan McCarthy said...

Tony –
Thanks. Yes, I’ve heard people say their respect has to be earned. I suppose that’s their prerogative, but what a way to go through life! So does that mean if this person joins a new team, they are going to disrespect all of their new coworkers until each one earns their respect? Good luck with that approach.
As for your real or hypothetical cranky coworker – yes, there are those people that we’d like to avoid at all costs, and if we can, we do. And if we can’t, sometimes the best we can hope for is to find common ground or goals and do what’s needed to achieve those goals, and nothing more.
If you feel there may be some hope in actually improving the relationship, you could try having a “crucial conversation” with the employee. But read the book first (-:

Wally –
Thanks. Wise advice, as usual.

Patrick –
Thanks. Well said – and it sounds like you really mean it. It’s a good way to go through life - don’t lose sight of it when you make it to the top.

Elijah –
Treating everyone the same is easier… treating them the way they want to be treated is hard work. It requires getting to know them.
As for your fellow managers… certainly being a role model is a start. When you stand out, it’s tempting to want to go along in order to get along. However, if you stay true to your core values, and show leadership, a few of them might start coming around to your way of leading. Especially when you start outperforming them, or their employees want to come over and work for you. And you’ll sleep better at night.

Brittany Moore said...

This is a really great post Dan; I like E-everyone counts. In my company there are over 1300 employees, ranging from CEO to dishwashers, but every single position is so important because without each and every one the business wouldn't run successfully and we wouldn't be able to please our guests. Everyone has to start at the bottom at one point in their career, so it's important to treat each person equally and respectfully because when we were in their position we wouldn't have expected anything less.

Ajo Cherian said...

Dan, I agree with all your points. I think we as human beings automatically assume that those in higher authority or positions than us in our company should get more respect than those in lower positions. That is a basic assumption many of us live with.

I remember hearing an anecdote from a pastor once who was sitting in a hospital's waiting room and watching the dynamics between the employees. The receptionist would always greet all the doctors and nurses who came by with polite and enthusiastic greetings. However, after a while, she got up to go down the hall and passed by a cleaning person who was coming towards her pushing a stack of dirty laundry. He looked up to say hello to her, and she just put her head down, made no eye contact, and walked on by. I'll never forget how the pastor recalled the look of dejection on that persons face after he passed by her.

That's just one example. I'm sure everyone has their own stories from life. I think disrespect affects corporate morale and is something all employees, leaders especially, should have a greater self-consciousness about as you rightly pointed out. Our actions regarding this do speak louder than words and what's written in an employee manual about respect.

Wally Bock said...

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

Wally Bock

Dan McCarthy said...

Brittany -
Thanks, sounds like a great place to work.

Ajo -
Thanks. That story is sad, but makes the point very well.
Executves need to remember this as they walk the halls or ride the elevator - they mean no disrespect, they're just busy and preoccupied - but smiling or acknowleding that person they've never met makes a lasting impression and can inspire loyalty and committment.

Dan McCarthy said...

Wally -

Jonathan Bradley said...

Well put. Great advice to build respect and trust. I think an assumption of these rules is that a leader can recognize, and deal with, someone viewing this respect as weakness. (Perhaps they are only familiar with dictator-managers.) Just as other resources, such as equipment, facilities and finances, if the human resource is not given its proper respect, you will not be able to realize its full potential. You could even shoot yourself in the foot. Good post.

Kyle Zive said...


All the letters of the acronym relate to being a person more than anything. It's real fitting that the acronym spells RESPECT. As humans we all desire respect in one way or another and this is a good way to get CEOs and managers to buy into it in the workplace.

Thank you

Matthew Dent said...

Great advice! This is a good core for leaders to follow, especially when creating followers. I especially like “P” from respect! This will go along way with an employee and lets them know you really care. I think most of us can count the number of times we hear “thank you” from a superior. Too many leaders fail to take the time for something simple, which will go along way!

Dan McCarthy said...

Jonathan, Kyle, Matthew -
Thanks, glad you liked it!

Ron said...

Excellent information that everyone can use, Keep posting.

Unknown said...


I wanted to congratulate you on the selection of this post to be included in this month's Carnival of Trust, hosted by Scot Herrick.

The Carnival of Trust is held monthly and highlights the best blog posts touching on the subject of trust in business, politics and society. I think you bring to light some very important, yet easily overlooked concepts about respect in the work environment. Thank you for your insight and contribution; it helped make a great carnival.

Kristin Abele

Dan McCarthy said...

Ron -

Kristin -
Hey, thanks for including my post! I look forward to seeing the Carnival.

El Biddulph said...

Great post, which I will definitely share with my leadership team.

My first business coach encouraged me to read The Platinum Rule (Tony Alessandra and Michael J. O'Conner). The opening chapter asks the question, "Has the Golden Rule lost its glitter?" and talks about why treating others the way THEY would like to be treated is important. It was a career-changing read. Thank you for leading me to pull that book off my bookshelf again!

Mia Robert said...

I agree respect is key. Many organizations say that they respect employees but really don't. Organizations that do respect employees benefit in many ways. Employees are happier and therefore work harder. They turnover rate is lower and productivity is higher. Employees will go over and beyond for any employer that they respect and that has respect for them.
Thank you