3 Ways Your Leadership Will Improve When You Demonstrate More Respect

When you commit to growing in your self-knowledge, with eyes wide open, your entire approach to your life, relationships and leadership will transform.

If you’ve worked for any length of time in a business environment, you’ve personally witnessed the good, bad and the ugly in the managers and leaders around you. “Leader” is an interesting term because it implies that as a “leader” you lead people well. But we all know that’s not necessarily true. In my 35+ years of working, I’ve seen that there are precious few standout leaders in corporate organizations, government and other arenas today who are making a lasting positive difference in their leadership and who serve as inspiring examples for others to follow.

Do a Google search of “leadership” and you’ll see literally millions of articles, interviews, reports and research about leadership and how to be a better leader (my quick search today came up with 7.7+ million). But what I see missing in so much of today’s coverage around leadership is the importance of treating everyone in your organization, from the lowest level to the highest, with respect.


In coaching hundreds of mid- to high-level professionals and leaders who are already demonstrating a positive impact in their organizations, I see one common behavioral trait that sets them apart and that is that they are deeply respectful to others. They demonstrate respect in many ways including respecting and valuing the ideas, opinions, differences, and worldviews that others have. And they show compassion and respect for every single person they encounter.

These great leaders never openly and publicly–or even behind closed doors–harshly judge, belittle, or attack people. And they don’t fall apart or become furious when they are challenged and told they’re wrong. This doesn’t mean they don’t have their differences with others, or always see eye-to-eye. It means that whatever the situation or challenge they’re presented with, they respect the individuals they are dealing with.

What is respect?

One definition of “respect” that is powerful and key in our leadership and managerial endeavors is that we recognize the inherent worth and value of the other person, and honor that inherent worthiness in our words, actions and behaviors.

Effective leaders who make a lasting positive difference in their work never use cruelty to tear down others, or engage in cowardly approaches like ripping someone to shreds on social media, as a way to seem powerful. They handle challenges differently, and always with respect. (And if you respect somehow who is cruel and hateful to others, what does that say about you?)


Why do we need to demonstrate respect of others in our leadership?

Because without it, you’ll alienate and drive away the very people you are trying to lead. Individuals who are evolved, self-aware and self-actualized, and who possess their own great leadership ability won’t tolerate being disrespected. The only people who will continue to associate with you or stay in your organization will be those who don’t respect themselves, or who think they’ll somehow grow more powerful through your good opinion of them. And that’s not about people respecting you–that’s about people using you.


Below are 3 ways your leadership will dramatically improve once you infuse your communication and behaviors with more respect:

#1: You’ll elicit far more commitment and engagement from the people around you

In an interesting Harvard Business Review article on The Leadership Behavior That’s Most Important to Employees, the author Christine Porath shares that being more respectful doesn’t just benefit you, it benefits everyone around you.


In her words:

“In a study of nearly 20,000 employees around the world (conducted with HBR), I found that when it comes to garnering commitment and engagement from employees, there’s one thing that leaders need to demonstrate: respect. No other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the outcomes we measured. Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback—or even opportunities for learning, growth, and development. However, even when leaders know that showing respect is critical, many struggle to demonstrate it. “


In her TED talk Why Being Respectful To Your Coworkers is Good For Business, Porath sums it up like this: “How you show up and treat people means everything.”


Tip: Ask yourself, “How am I showing up today, and do I like who I am and what I’m modeling as my core values and behaviors? If not, do something this week to change how you’re operating. If you find you can’t do this alone, outside help might be necessary to get to the root of why being more respectful to others is so challenging.


#2: You’ll reduce the degree of conflict and tension in your work culture

By modeling respect for others, and encouraging that behavior in everyone around you, the work culture you lead will address tension, conflict and challenge in more empowering and successful ways.

In an important study done by The Center For Creative Leadership, findings showed that treating people with respect on a daily basis was rated as one of the most helpful things a leader can do to address conflict or tension.

An interesting finding that emerged from the study was that the absence of disrespect is not the same thing as respect. Kelly Hannum, co-author of Leading Across Differences: Casebook, shares this:

“Eliminating active disrespect—such as rude, insulting or devaluing words or behaviors—doesn’t create respect. Respect is an action: we show respect, we act respectfully, we speak with respect. Leaders need to know that the absence of disrespect doesn’t have the same positive impact in resolving disagreement, conflict or tension as does the presence of respect.”


Tip: Check out Christine Porath’s intriguing Civility Self-Assessment to gauge how you’re doing in your treatment of others. Be honest in your responses, then review the findings for areas where you can grow in your respectful treatment of others.


#3: You’ll become someone who does the right thing and does things right, which will help others do the same

In her article on 6 Ways To Earn Respect as a Leader, leadership expert Lolly Daskal shares that one behavior–trustworthiness–is a cornerstone of earning respect and demonstrating respect for others.

Daskal shares:

“Trustworthiness has two components­–doing the right things and doing things right. It’s the foundation of respect, central to any effective leader. Tell the truth, be open and thoughtful, and have the courage to do the right thing even when it’s not easy.”


Just read the headlines today and you’ll see a plethora of leaders around us not doing the right thing, and not taking accountability when they do the wrong things. Not being able to accept responsibility for your errors in judgment and for your illegal, unethical, damaging or otherwise wrong behavior is a hallmark of narcissism, and leaders who cannot take accountability for their actions are disappointing at best, destructive at worst.


Leadership expert Dov Baron shared in my Finding Brave podcast and our Forbes interview about Narcissistic Leaders–The Destructive Lies They Tell Themselves and Others that:

“The narcissist will always argue that their results justify their means. They will often use grandiose language about a greater good, which is how they con others into following them, but the truth is that everyone is merely a pawn in the narcissist’s game. They see others as less—less intelligent, less worthy, less capable, less deserving—and that’s how they justify their lies and manipulations.”


Tip: As Baron shares, “first and foremost, the leaders of the future must be deeply and sincerely emotionally intelligent. Therefore the place to start is with an ongoing commitment to developing self-knowledge.”


Have the bravery and strength to take a good, hard look at yourself and understand more about the roots of your core thoughts, mindsets, values and behaviors. And examine in a much more intimate way than ever before just how your past has shaped you. When you commit to growing in your self-knowledge, with eyes wide open, your entire approach to your life, relationships and leadership will transform.


To develop greater self-awareness and respect in your leadership, work with Kathy Caprino in a Career Breakthrough program and tune into her weekly podcast Finding Brave.

Originally published at Forbes