Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Meaning of Respect

I’ve been a part of or led countless leadership team meetings where lists of values are created. There’s usually a lot of brainstorming, discussion, some polite debate, and eventual consolidation. Someone agrees to type up the list, distribute it, and then they move on to the next topic.

Sometimes there may be some discussion around why having a list of organizational values is important to have. The reasons are usually:

1. They help guide decision making

2. They help drive behaviors and actions

3. They define an organization’s culture

4. They can help in employee selection

5. They can help with recruiting and marketing

6. Because everyone else has them

Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that there’s rarely enough discussion around what those values really mean.

Let’s take respect, as an example – one that’s near and dear to me. Respect means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For me, when I think of what respect means as a leader, I think of positive and negative examples I’ve seen demonstrated by leaders. The following are true stories that helped define who I am as a leader:

Story #1: Situational respect?
I was having dinner with a group of executives one night. One executive, Bill, shared his value around how he treats everyone the same, no matter who they are. I remember being invited to a corporate golf tournament, and being a junior manager and last minute fill-in, I felt a little out of place amongst all of the big-wigs. Then, Bill walks up and welcomes me, offered me a cigar, spends 5-10 minutes talking to me, and introduces me to a few people. I NEVER forgot that, and whenever I had the chance, went out of my way to support Bill.

The other executive, Paul, had a different opinion. Paul was the consummate politician. He believed that you needed to pick and choose who you paid attention to, always making sure you were prioritizing your time and energy on those that could help you achieve your individual or organizational goals. I had a few opportunities to be on Paul’s low priority list, so I knew exactly what he was referring to. As I listened to him describe his strategy, I was tempted to “accidentally” spill my drink on him. I have to admit; I did get a little bit of satisfaction when Paul ended up hitching his wagon to the wrong horse and went down in corporate flames. Not a lot of people lined up to throw water on him.

Story #2: The stable hand’s son.
One of my all-time favorite leaders, Marty, was promoted to vice-president. We were working on a project together, and we needed to pick a venue for an off-site meeting. Being a VP, he could have just picked up the phone or fired off an email, and some poor minion would end up having to drop everything and scramble around trying to figure out what he really wanted. Instead, he gets up, walks down two flights of stairs, finds the person responsible for that function, asks if she had a moment, then proceeds to pull up a chair next to her and collaborate with her on venue selection. No, he didn’t just tell…he asked, and seemed to sincerely value her opinion.
I asked him about it later, and he told me that when he was a kid, his father was a stable hand at a horse-breeding farm. He saw how some of the rich and powerful treated his father, and swore that if he ever reached a position of power and status, that he would NEVER treat anyone like that. He made it one of his strongly held values to treat everyone with respect, to value each and every employee’s contributions, and never get too full of himself.

Story #3: Got a light?
There was a CEO named Dan that was at my building for a meeting one day. It was about 6:00pm, the meeting had long ended, and I could see him out my window heading to his car in the parking lot. There was a group of maintenance workers having a smoke break outside the building, and I saw Dan stop and start asking them questions and listening to what they had to say. I had no idea what the discussion was – it could have been about the weather, sports, or corporate strategy – the topic didn’t matter, the point is, from my window I could tell that he was engaged and doing most of the listening.

Story #4: The barista
This one’s just a little thing, but it left a big impact on me as a leader. I was in a building for a meeting that I had never been in. I stopped by a break room to grab a cup of coffee, and someone in front of me was in the process of pouring the last cup. When he turned around and saw me waiting, he introduced himself and proceeded to make a fresh pot of coffee for me. He even got a cup and poured it for me. So what? Well, it turns out my barista was the president of the business unit.

Those four experiences were defining moments for me, and helped shape my own interpretation of what it means to demonstrate respect as a leader. To me, you treat everyone with the same degree of respect, regardless of rank, title, status, or tenure. You don't have to "earn my respect" - but you can lose it. It's not something you only give away when it may serve your needs.
Asking people for their ideas and listening is the ultimate demonstration of respect. And finally, don't ever take the last cup of coffee and walk away without making a fresh pot. (-:

So what’s the point? Values are nothing but words on a plaque unless a team and every leader is clear on what they really mean and demonstrates them in their day-to-day behavior. Your own stories of respect or lack of could be completely different than mine, and what's important to you may not be the same as whats important to me.

The next time the topic of values comes up, why not take some time as a leadership team to list on flipcharts what each value looks like and what it doesn’t look like. Then, go back and have a conversation with each of your team members, asking them to describe what each value looks like to them. Finally, take a good look in the mirror and decide what you are going to try to start, stop, and continuing doing.

I once heard of an organization that actually handed out small rewards when they saw a value being demonstrated and tickets if they saw a values “violation”. Corny? Maybe, but at least it’s a visible demonstration that values are part of an organizations operating rules, not just part of a recruiting brochure. When you see that happening, especially amongst an organization’s senior leaders, then you know they take their values seriously.

How about you? What does respect mean to you? What were your own defining moments that helped shape that meaning?


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this post, I have been following your blog for quite a long time.

This blog post actually spoke to me. When I started following this blog early this year it was mainly due to management techniques that you spoke about, being a management student it was educational interest to me.

And later as tools to use in my team of a student association where I am the president of.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this post. I love the way you make intangible matters concrete and with a clear sense of humor. It's proof of experience. I share your opinion that respect means to treat everyone to the same standards. I even respect people I don't like or who, in my opinion, do wrong. I always try to understand & explain. Although it makes life more complicated. Certainly 'jumping to action' is less easy when heaving respect.

Sharon Reed said...

Great post! I often talk to my colleagues about the importance of respect - how respect given or denied can be such a powerfully motivating or demotivating force. From a leadership perspective, it an essential ingredient in the effective management of any team.

I just subscribed to your blog and look forward to more of your insights.

Cheers - Sharon Reed

RiSe said...

Thank you. That was a nicely written post.

My friend always says Wisdom is Experience + reflection. Thank you for the wisdom you have shared.

I will remember to mention this in my next leadership workshop.


Dominic Rajesh said...

Lovely post, Dan! All these stories are memorable and drive home the message!

Thank you for sharing!

Rachel said...

Hi Dan,

As others have mentioned, I've followed your blog for some time now and this entry is a favorite. Treating everyone with the same level of respect is paramount for me - I've always known everyone's names in a building, from bathroom to boardroom. We are all on the same team!

Thanks for being a strong voice of true leadership,

Anonymous said...

Great post Dan,
I am lucky enbough to work in a business where the CEO eschews the values he preaches, so much so that he has a blog on the subject of what he calls the 'character traingle' and we have 'Aces cards' that we give to a member of our team who demonstrates one of the 3 key values. Having said this the challenge is still to filter this down through the organisation as it only takes one 'B' player with their own agenda in a position of power to change this from a harmonious set of values, to something that the management preach to their subordinates to tick a corporate box!

Unknown said...

I like to put everything through the radar of the question
Is this fair , treating people equally with the same level of respect means you have to treat fairly.
Many miss this. Great post

Dan McCarthy said...

Sathitharan -
Thanks, I’m glad this one hit the mark for you.

The future –

Sharon –
Thanks for subscribing!

Siva –
A wise friend. Thanks!

Dominic –
Thanks, and for the RT as well.

Rachel –
Thanks, that’s really nice. I had no idea this post would have touched so many people like it seems to have. I guess that’s the nature of respect – it’s so important to us, both in the workplace and in our personal relationships.
The transition into my new job made me think about it. The university culture is one that I’m not used to – it’s almost a caste-like system, and I’ve seen some good and bad examples.

Anon -
Thanks, I’d like to take a look at your CEO’s blog – can you leave us a link?

Jody –

Karl Jones said...

I concur with the perspective of respect. Each positive example represented sincere concern for others and taking the time to develop relationships with others. In today's electronic world these important tasks can be lost.

Lakshman said...

I’m a big fan of your blog and this is the first time commenting. Never thought I will be commenting on your post since I'm just a learner and didn’t know what value my comments will add. But after reading this post, I could not hold back. Respect might mean a lot of things, right, but one thing I figured out after taking over in my new job is that, some people respect us only until they feel secure to do so. For some reason, if they feel insecure because of anything we do, and it could well be the most harmless thing, they not only stop showing respect, but they also try their best to ensure others don’t show it too. All examples you had given are from top leaders. They have proved their potential and gone on to become what they are. But what about bottom rung managers, aren’t they also supposed to display leadership traits, and some humility? The only thing worse than working for a bad manager is I feel, working with them. It’s just my bad experience, and I honestly hope I'm wrong.

James Taylor said...

Truly enjoyed this post, thanks so much for sharing these stories. Makes the intangible of 'respect' far more easy to lay hands on and wrap one's mind around.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! I shared it throughout my professional network.

The stories you shared on respect are similar to stories in my own experience. The saying "you get what you give" is so true, particularly where respect is concerned. In all the stories, the leaders who gave respect willingly got it back in equal or greater measure.

As for corporate values actually meaning something, thank you for the suggestion on how to move them from words on a page because "everyone else is doing it" to making them meaningful. One company I worked at had a "Living the Values Award". 12 years later, it's still the award that I felt the most honored to get, particularly because it was a deep sign of respect from the team that nominated me.

Dan McCarthy said...

Karl -
Agree, it's harder to show the kind of respect I've described through an email. Thanks.

Lakshman -
Thanks for commenting, I'm glad you did. You're going to find bad, good, and everything in between managers as you continue with your career. You'll learn from all of them. I think you've made an interesting observation - perhaps those that are disrespectul lack confidence in themselves?

James -

Liza -
Congratulations! and I love your point about giving and getting back. Thanks.

Unknown said...

You never know who is watching or where the individual you are interacting with is coming from. That has always been the case and couldn’t be more important in today’s social media age. Your four examples of personal, witnessed, and second-hand respect have significantly influenced your behaviors and yet those individuals directly involved in your examples may likely have not even known of their influence (certainly not to the extent described here).
For me, it is critical to make this value a priority. Workload is never an excuse! Your time is better spent listening to the concerns of your co-workers than it is responding to emails.
I have to remind myself of this too often. Thanks for the reminder in this blog!

Mark Vickers said...

That was fun to read. Making an abstractions such as "respect" concrete via good storytelling is a gift. Thanks.

Dan McCarthy said...

Adam -
Right, your values will drive your behavior, and it's too hard to fake it 24/7. "No time for" is just another way of saying it's less important.

Mark -
Thanks, glad you enjoyed.

Gina @HireBetter said...

Dan- Those who are in it for the wrong reasons- will tend to demand respect from people & not truly grasp the idea that one gets a lot farther with a little kindness. If you want respect- you must first give it genuinely.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your moments of respect Dan. That's how I see respecting other's feelings.
I strongly believe respect in the foundation for building relationship with others. Without respect an organization can't create trust, share vision or create powerful teams.

Derek Irvine said...

Brilliant post, Dan. Making the company values real in the daily work of employees is something I write about all the time at, but that's not what really caught my eye in this post.

Rather, it was your statement: "To me, you treat everyone with the same degree of respect, regardless of rank, title, status, or tenure. You don't have to "earn my respect" - but you can lose it. It's not something you only give away when it may serve your needs."

If you replaced "respect" with "recognition and appreciation" I think the impact would be as profound. EVERYONE, regardless of rank, title, status or tenure, deserves to have their work and efforts appreciated and recognized -- even the CFO who makes sure the company stays on budget and even the cleaning staff that makes sure the office environment is clean and safe to work in every day.

You don't have to "earn" recognition and appreciation as if it's something reserved for the elite -- all should be eligible to be appreciated for their work. Yes, even the slackers at the bottom 10% of the performance ladder. Surely even those employees do SOMETHING worthy of recognition (or why are you still employing them?). Perhaps if you reached out to a "low performer" to say, "John, thanks for that effort on the MacGuffin project. They way you handled the details was critical to landing us the contract," then John might be willing to step up his game.

R. Tom Saxton said...

I feel respect is extremely important in no matter what business you are in. It leads to great relationships, and building better cliental

Billy Wheeler said...

I think about respect all of the time at work. I agree with you, in the fact that values such as respect are "pressed" within an organization, but not really defined or evaluated. The stories you tell seem very common in some organizations, and not so common in others. I do have one question though, as someone who is an aspiring manager, but not yet one himself. How can we, as subordinates of managers, relate to them that we deserve respect and need it to get along in the organization? Is there some standpoint that we can make that would encourage better relationships and therefore possibly enhance our satisfaction with the people we work with?

Dan McCarthy said...

Gina -
I love your point - "demanding respect", as a manager, is about power.

Llango -
Thanks, well said.

Derek -
Thanks. Great points on recognition and appreciation, another form of respect. Some managers seem to treat these as if there is a limited supply, and it needs to be rationed or they may run out.

Tom -
Agree. Thanks. I always thought a good way to assess someone's character was to observe how they interact with those that earn a living by serving them (waiters, cleaners, maids, cabbies, etc...).

Billy -
I think i know where you're coming from. the reality is, trying to tell a manager that you derserve and need respect usually doesn't work very well. Sometimes the best you can do is be a role model for those around you, and respect will come your way. You're also learning powerful lessons on how NOT to lead, which will serve you well when you get the chance. Don't forget those lessons, like the VP I mentioned, Marty.

Rojae Braga said...

This is a great post Dan! As for me, I always love to live by this quote when talking about how I see the word Respect, “Treat everyone you meet as though they are the most important person you'll meet today.” I hope to hear more of your stories. Thanks for the inspiration Dan! said...

It is amazing to know that there are articles like this on web .Thanks for helping me out...

Hahn said...

Thank you very much for this article on respect. I think that everyone in a company should have a reminder from time to time that respect is essential to getting work done, with efficiency and ease. I think that this is especially an important thing for managers at all levels to remember. Respect should be given to everyone and shouldn't be something that is exclusive. For one thing you never know if the person you are interacting with today could be the one you need help from or something tomorrow. You just never know. Also when people feel respected and valued they tend to do higher quality work and personally as a future manager I would definitely want my employees to produce their best work.

Dan McCarthy said...

Rojae -
Thanks, that's a good motto to live by.

Poul -
Thanks, the web sure has changed the way we network and learn from each other.

Thanks, you're right, you never know.

таблетки для похудения said...

Thank you very much. Very good blog, bookmarked

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, i needed this very much. i will definately share this with my congregation.

Sri said...

Visiting your blog after some time Manish, but it was worth it as always :)

I completely concur with your ideas as I've similar experience both professional and personal. That is the goodness of the article - the take away is applicable both for your personal and professional life and for all age groups.