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Leaders who don’t treat others with respect should lovingly be set free

Leaders must set the tone for values and behaviors they expect, including treating others with respect. Leaders who can't do that need to go.

3 min read


Co-workers shaking hands and treating each other with respect


To what degree do the leaders across your organization treat others with respect in every interaction?

The only way to know is to engage with your staff, listen to team members, measure their perceptions of your leaders’ behaviors and close any gaps.

The unfortunate reality is that, left to our own devices, we humans tend to treat others with disdain, discounting their ideas, efforts and contributions.

“Hoping” your leaders treat others with respect is not a guarantee that they do – or will.

Here’s an example. Recently, a top White House official resigned after a two-month investigation found he regularly bullied and demeaned subordinates in front of their bosses and peers. Eric Lander apologized to employees of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for “being disrespectful and demeaning.”

It’s good that this leader moved on. It’s unfortunate that his toxic behavior went unabated for over a year.

Toxic behavior has been present in workplaces for generations. Bullying, harassment and demeaning practices have been tolerated for all of those years.

Today is starkly different. Employees of all generations desire and deserve workplaces where they are respected and validated for their ideas, efforts and contributions every single day.

When employees don’t experience respect and validation, they quit — and at a remarkable pace. In 2021, more than 47 million US workers voluntarily quit their jobs.

How can business leaders ensure that every player is treated with respect in the workplace?

These three steps are vital.

First, set high standards

Don’t assume leaders and team members know how to treat others respectfully. Specify the exact behaviors that you expect everyone in your organization to model in daily interactions.

For example, people might interpret “integrity” in a variety of ways. Don’t make people guess what you want. Tell them. A great behavior that models integrity is “I do what I say I will do.” This behavior is observable, tangible and measurable.

Second, model high standards

Once your values have been defined in specific, behavioral terms, leaders must model them daily. Your desired valued behaviors gain credibility only when leaders willingly and effectively demonstrate them.

Third, hold everyone accountable for high standards

Conduct values surveys so every employee can rate their direct boss on how well that boss models your valued behaviors. Celebrate those aligned bosses. Coach and mentor misaligned bosses.

If leaders or team members are unable to treat others with respect and demonstrate your valued behaviors in every interaction, lovingly set them free.

S. Chris Edmonds is a speaker, author and executive consultant with The Purposeful Culture Group, where he is founder and CEO. He has authored or co-authored seven books, including “The Culture Engine.” His latest book, “Good Comes First,” recently published and was co-authored with Mark Babbitt. Edmonds’ videos, posts and podcasts are available at Follow Edmonds on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Apple Podcasts.

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