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respecting your team


a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.

due regard for the feelings, wishes or rights of others.

The word ‘respect’ is complex, offering as can be seen above, a variety of meanings depending on the context in which it is used and even the age group applying it – it is simultaneously both verb and noun. 

There are many different types of respect: People’s respect for nature or for the law, for example, is different from the respect they have for other people.  This article will focus on respect for others and the phenomena known as vertical respect and horizontal respect.

Vertical respect is given to those people we perceive to have superior skills, knowledge or expertise. People might respect managers for their visionary leadership or even athletes for their self-discipline and application.

Horizontal respect relates to a more general mindset we have towards others as being of equal worth; it describes an acknowledgement of others as being on the same level. Essentially, such respect is shown in how people interact with others, in particular in how they take the needs of others into account in their actions.  

What is respectful leadership?

The study of respectful leadership is about identifying which behaviours from leaders signal to subordinates that they are of equal worth.  Interestingly countless surveys have demonstrated that respectful leadership is very high on what employees want from their leaders.  Respectful leadership is built upon and supported by a series of behaviours.  All leadership is a two-way street, a relationship between leader and follower.  

Effective, respectful leadership is engendered by leaders who:

  • Trust their teams to work independently and perform well.
  • Express criticism in an objective and constructive way.
  • Recognise their staff as fully fledged counterparts.
  • Show a genuine interest in their people’s opinions.
  • Treat their subordinates in a polite manner.
  • Do not blame others for their own mistakes.
  • Stand up for their people and their work.
  • Provide relevant information to their teams.
  • Take their staff and their work seriously.
  • Interact in an open and honest manner with all of their team members.
  • Treat all of their staff in the same way.

When applied to matters of respect, the adage ‘what goes around comes around’ advises that how we treat others is how they will treat us. However, the truth is much broader than that. My experience shows that receiving respectful treatment from a superior can make team members feel very group oriented. Such actions encourage us to spread our own respectfulness, not just in a reciprocal fashion to those who gave us respect, but to the whole group or team to which we belong.

So how does this benefit leadership? 

Well, it’s actually quite straightforward. There is often the notion in management that if you treat employees too nicely, with too much respect, the leader’s effectiveness is weakened. Indeed, I am aware that some managers are taught that it is very difficult to be a popular leader and run a successful organisation – I would, of course, disagree with this.  Being nice and being respectful are not the same.  Where a leader gives respect to employees, a powerful consequence is that it is much easier for those employees to identify with and follow the leader. Indeed, as those who follow management thinking will be aware, this employee/leader identification is considered one of the pillars of modern leadership style.

Leadership, after all, is about people. It is not primarily about developing organisational objectives and implementing them throughout the enterprise. The true task of leaders is to engage people and convince them to follow. Leaders can be measured by the degree of followership that they have. Without followership leaders cannot expect to present their objectives, corporate or otherwise and have subordinates willingly strive towards those goals.

How does respectful leadership manifest itself?

A leader who engages with their subordinates, respects their skills and value to the organisation, discovers how they want to be treated and what they consider is respectful to them, sends out a powerful message, one that actively encourages followership. 

Horizontal respect given out by leaders comes back to them as vertical respect. So, the more leaders treat employees respectfully, the more employees will respond with vertical respect, thus they are more open to the influence of the leader – a genuinely virtuous circle.

I have found during my research that leaders who communicate with subordinates in a way that expresses respectful leadership are more likely to run coherent and effective organisations. Leaders who ask questions and listen actively will engage their people. However, its negative effect is pretty obvious if someone asks you a question and then starts playing with their mobile phone whilst you give them your answer!  The benefit of asking questions and actively listening is that the asker relinquishes control of the conversation to the person being asked.  This is a very powerful gesture, embodying respect and engendering trust.  Conversation is a very powerful means of showing to other people that they are of value; it expresses that the individual is worth talking to and that you respect them – if I engage in conversation with you then it must be because I believe that what you have to say is of value.

Question asking is a very respectful way of communicating. By the same token, it is a very different way of communicating leadership than that taught by many management philosophies, which are primarily focused on delivering vision, pursuing a clear path to the future or a predetermined set of goals.  I am not suggesting that the respectful leader will not make decisions and reduce uncertainty; that’s their job.  However, the respectful leader will not make decisions in isolation, but instead will make a point of asking the opinions of their followers.

The benefits of respectful leadership

By being able to better identify with leaders and their goals, employees will engage more effectively with the organisation. Essentially, employees become happier and their motivation increases in an environment where they feel respected.  Not only can respectful leadership make an organisation a great place to work, but it also offers additional and not insignificant benefits for employer branding, recruitment, staff retention and more. A happy, respected and stable workforce contributes to reduced costs and improvements in performance.

“Treat people the way you want to be treated.  Talk to people the way you want to be talked to.  Respect is earned, not given”

Hussein Nishah

culture, example, leadership, resilience