Offer Your Respect

“The only respect you should have is the one you earn” – Stellan Skarsgard

Recently, I have been asked to prepare a program for some coaching with a leader who is struggling with issues of command and control and has lost the trust and respect of those who they serve. In preparing some materials to assist this leader, I began delving into the basic concepts of respectful leadership and how if modeled can bolster respect with the organization at large. In doing this, there were items I found myself many times asking “do I do this”? I wanted to take a moment to state a few of them just for your own personal reflection. A lot of this comes from my recent reading of The Respectful Leader which centers around the idea and base common courtesy in the workplace.

Respect the Timebox

This is something that a lot of us as leaders struggle with and can become more cognizant about in general. We are often pulled into emergency situations, demands rise without warning or we are needed for in the moment coaching or guidance. I get this. It’s part of the job demands. But, we do have control over how we demonstrate respect to others when we see ourselves in jeopardy to meet commitments to meet with others.

Failure to keep our meeting commitments, especially as a leader, means we are clearly communicating “my time is far more valuable than yours”. Or is demonstrates a lack of focus, clarity and resolve to respect the time of others.

I am unsure the origin from the quote (although many quote Eric Dickey’s 2007 book “Sleeping with Strangers” but I try and use this personally when I need to attend a meeting; “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable”.

If you find you are going to be late or a meeting will run over, try these 2 simple things:

  1. Interrupt the meeting running long apologetically and notify the upcoming meeting participants that you will be late (try and give specifics of when you will be there).
  2. Keep focus of the time and if you need additional meeting time, notify your current meeting that you will need to re-convene at another time as you have another meeting you must attend. Be courteous and apologize for the disruption if needed.
  3. Have an agenda for meetings so you can “parking lot” anything that deviates and if time allows revisit the lost for the highest priority issue or setup a follow-up as timely as possible.

If you see people drag into routine meetings late, as opposed to calling them out, ask; “is this still a good time for the meeting? I noticed we have difficult starting on time.”

Focus your attention on the conversation

In a world of constant “tethering” to our electronic devices, it is so easy to become distracted or disengaged when meeting with others. We often talk about people “checking out” during a meeting and reading email or typing away on a laptop as an accepted practice. But does it have to be? And what kind of respect do we show the others in the room or the host of the meeting when doing this? What perception do we create for ourselves with others when acting in this way? This is at base level a clear sign of disrespect to others in the meeting. This is especially harmful when we are meeting with another person directly or schedule the meeting ourselves. It demonstrates a lack of concern or desire to be engaged in the conversation. As we are asked in this age to “do more faster” it often engenders a thought for me of being a waste of time that could be better spent.

I get that, especially in a leadership role, that we often have a high degree of demands on us. But also, as a leader, we typically have a modicum more control over time as well. Our time is no more important than anyone else when it comes to respecting others.

Here is what I do for myself to eliminate these “distractions”. I close my laptop and engage in the conversation often taking notes on paper. I try and set my phone on at least silent and whenever possible “do not disturb” mode (so I can avoid the impulse to respond to the buzz) and I listen. Yep, it may be absolutely nothing I care about, nothing I can do anything about or something that is merely a vent.

I listen and engage so I can ask questions. It often makes meeting shorter as they are more focused and avoids the “late questions syndrome”. The late question syndrome has been experienced by everyone at least once in their lifetime usually in school. The instructor covers a topic and explicitly states “this will be on the exam” to which a student daydreaming or generally disengaged raises his hand once the topic ends and asks “will this be on the exam”? Yes, that is disrespect in action.

Control  emotional shift

In the book referenced above, author Gregg Ward states “keep your shift together” when dealing with situations. What he means here is that as humans and as leaders, we are experiencing continual emotional shifts throughout the day.

A bad start to the morning can cause someone from the time they walk in the door to say “it’s a bad day” to troubles at home coloring responses to work issues or encountering en disrespectful behavior from others pushing us as leaders to be disrespectful.

I think the idea of “keeping your shift together” is sound advice. Basically, pay attention to your emotions when dealing with problems or difficult situations. We all encounter these, especially as leaders, and it is important that we are aware of our emotional state and do not allow them to color how we deal with these issues. Give yourself a moment to center and focus on the issue at hand. Don’t make a difficult situation more difficult through a knee jerk reaction or addressing it with a storm of unrelated emotions.

These are just 3 small areas and suggestions I think relate well to the idea of cultivating a more respectful workplace. After reading them, take a moment and reflect on people you know who may do these things and think about how it impacts your respect for them in the moment. How can you help coach them? Are they even aware of these things?

And, if you are even more brave, think about which of these things (or other similar items) that you may exhibit and how others, especially those whom you lead, may reflect these same behaviors or continue to exhibit them and deflate the respect of their fellow employees.

No great wisdom or insight here but more common sense. As Morgan Freeman stated in the movie “The Bonfire of the Vanities”

“Let me tell you what justice is. Justice is the law, and the law is man’s feeble attempt to set down the principles of decency. Decency! And decency is not a deal. It isn’t an angle, or a contract, or a hustle! Decency… decency is what your grandmother taught you. It’s in your bones! Now you go home. Go home and be decent people. Be decent.”

Let’s all practice being decent to one another in our workplaces and set the example starting with ourselves …






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