Leadership 14: A leader must create a place where people feel respected as people.

A funny thing happened as I was looking for videos to illustrate “How to make your team members feel respected.” Many videos came up, but they were all addressing a different aspect of achieving respect, “How to make people respect you at work.”  No wonder we have a leadership crisis, we are only focused on ourselves instead of those who we lead.

As I also looked at the rough draft of this post which I wrote in May I see that most of what I intended to include here has just been discussed in the last few posts, so I’m not going to repeat myself. Hallelujah! I will try and make this short.

Okay, now that we trust each other, let’s push on!

This was my ORIGINAL list of what this post would have covered:

My Leadership Principles based on respecting team members as people.

1. Always be kind, treat people with courtesy and politeness.

2. Get to know each team member

3. Be genuinely interested in their opinions and suggestions

Encourage suggestions

4. Always look for opportunities to praise others.

5. Publicly back team members in critical situations.

6. Put your team members’ physical and mental health first.

Being considerate of work hours

Protect evenings, weekends and vacations

7. Be open to working on personal problems to help them work better.

8. Make time for fun.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?  So rather than restate all these things which would bore me too, I am just going to include a few short videos that clarify some of the terms we will be using, such as “respect,” “Emotional Intelligence” “self-awareness and regulation”  “happy hour” and “fun.” I will also include a few pointers on things such as the importance of taking the darn donuts; what should I call you? the importance of knowing the goals of each team member; being willing to talk last in a meeting; and the recognition that it’s always 5:00 somewhere.

Here is a short video the highlights the characteristics of a respectful workplace.

The video identifies the characteristics of a respectful workplace as one that is uplifting, supportive, and positive, one which make us feel respected and appreciated.  These characteristics  include: when we feel respected and appreciated; when we are free to be ourselves; and we are encouraged to apply our unique experiences, skills and talents to the work we do. 

The eight keys it covers in its online training program include:  Act Ethically; Disagree Constructively; Workplace Harassment Training; Champion Diversity; Neutralize Bullying; In Doubt? Find Out!; Listen for Understanding; and Demonstrate Appreciation.  If you are interested in learning more about their trainings offered by ServiceSkills, you can find information here: https://www.serviceskills.com/courses/8-keys-to-a-more-respectful-workplace/

Respect is hard to define and is most obvious in its absence.

“A respectful workplace brings enormous benefits to organizations. Employees who say they feel respected are more satisfied with their jobs and more grateful for—and loyal to—their companies. They are more resilient, cooperate more with others, perform better and more creatively, and are more likely to take direction from their leaders. Conversely, a lack of respect can inflict real damage. To quote from the best-selling book Crucial Conversations, “Respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s all that people can think about.” Research supports this assertion, finding that 80% of employees treated uncivilly spend significant work time ruminating on the bad behavior, and 48% deliberately reduce their effort. In addition, disrespectful treatment often spreads among coworkers and is taken out on customers.” How to Demonstrate Respect in the Workplace, Create a Positive Work Culture for Your Employees by SUSAN M. HEATHFIELD

Credit: pinterest-natasha-nkonjera

Why are people disrespectful in the workplace? The Harvard Business Review conducted a study and the results are not reassuring.

“To learn why people are disrespectful, I conducted a separate survey asking 125 employees why they behaved uncivilly. Over 60% claim they are overloaded and have no time to be nice. This is a hollow excuse since respect doesn’t require extra time; it’s about how something is conveyed — your tone and non-verbal communication — not a separate action. Twenty-five percent claim that they don’t have a role model for respect in their organization, they’re just behaving as the leaders do.

“Over the last 18 years I’ve studied the effects of civility (which I define as behavior involving politeness and regard for others in the workplace, within workplace norms for respect) and I’ve learned that the vast majority of disrespect stems from a lack of self-awareness.”

From the Harvard Business Review, quoted in Respect Your Employees. It’s a skill that matters. See the entire article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141123132732-197203348-respect-your-employees-it-s-a-skill-that-matters/

Respect is conveyed by following rules of office etiquette.  

The Harvard Business Review article referenced “politeness and regard for others in the workplace,” and the following video discusses eight rules regarding office etiquette, some of which may seem obvious, but I have seen each one of these violated, repeatedly, over the last 20 years working in close quarters. (And the video is timely, even though it references pulling out a chair for someone. I am old enough to have been taught to pull a chair out for my mother and every other woman, and I was also self-aware enough to have stopped doing it in the 70’s when I received hostile glares as the Women’s Liberation Movement grew.)

How to Demonstrate Respect in the Workplace, Create a Positive Work Culture for Your Employees, The balance careers.com

Video Credit: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-demonstrate-respect-in-the-workplace-1919376

The importance of treating your team members with empathy – using your emotional intelligence to understand what your team members are feeling.

Empathy is an important part of leadership and Simon Sinek summoned it up well with this example.  Modern business boss says, “I asked you to get this report to me by Thursday COB.  You got it to me Friday morning, and it is not nearly good enough.  If you continue to put in substandard effort, we will have to replace you.”  How does this person feel tomorrow morning as they are coming into work?

Compare it to an emphatic leader.  “I asked you to get this report to me by Thursday COB.  You got it to me Friday morning, and it is not up to your usual standard of excellence.   I’m worried about you.  Are you ok? Any problems here or at home?  How can I help you do your normally great work?”

It is obvious which person we would want to work with and for.

In the second example the person is expressing concern because their emotional intelligence is telling them that something is wrong with the person they are addressing, they are showing signs of struggling and the  leader is wondering if perhaps this is an unspoken need for assistance, the type we saw in the post about listening as a leader. 

Improving our Emotional Intelligence will help us in all our relationships, work, friends and family.

Emotional intelligence is important because it can help us in the office as a leader, but it is also important when we are with those we love, our significant others, our children and our friends.  Let’s look at what emotional intelligence is and how you can develop it.

What’s Emotional Intelligence? (EQ Explained + How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence). Video by Work in Progress, the Career Contessa

Read the article here: https://www.careercontessa.com/advice/empathy-at-work/

Let’s take some of the ideas in the video and see how you would put them into action.

1. Developing our emotional intelligence starts with working  on your self-awareness and self-regulation. 

In Leadership 8 we talked about the importance of a leader learning how to listen to emotion.

“The language of empathy does not come naturally to us. It’s not part of our ‘mother tongue.’ Most of us grew up having our feelings denied.” Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish,   How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk.

We need to learn to recognize our own emotions because often we can avoid having a situation spin out of control if we recognize that we are reacting with a strong emotion in a situation where we need to remain calm so our team member can express their feelings without feeling judged.

Go ahead and yell at people, but do it tomorrow.

There have been many times when Rebecka with whom I am married, or my daughters, or a friend or co-worker has pushed me right to the edge and I feel a emotion outburst welling up in me.  And just before I speak up, I stop and decide that, yes, I am upset, and yes, their behavior is outrageous and I will yell at them. But I will do it tomorrow.  And not surprisingly, I usually find that if I keep quiet today,  I will look back on this annoyance tomorrow and see how petty it actually was, and I end up saying nothing.  Nobody’s feelings are hurt, no bridges were burned, no apologies needed.  Plus, it gives me the chance to learn more about my own emotional reactions – if tomorrow it seems so insignificant, what was wrong with ME yesterday that allowed me to be so easily upset?

2.  Work on your ability to recognize and interpret other people’s emotions.

In the video recognizing and interpreting other people’s emotions is described as picking up the vibe and social signals of others, and some of us are better at this than others. She gives a great example with the dialogue (or rather, monologue)  with the coworker who is chatting away a mile a minute, completely oblivious to the person she is speaking to.  I have worked with people like this and I always thought they could end their exhausting four minute soliloquy in the office pantry with a flippant comment as they are turning away, “Oh, and by the way, your toast is on fire.”

It’s all about listening and observing.

In order to recognize and interpret the emotions of others, we have to be paying attention – that is why a leader checks in with each team member in the morning to see if they are truly in the office, or if it was just their body that dragged itself in to the office.  In addition, observing the team as they are working, and brief chats sometime during the day with each member allows us to learn how they act, speak, and listen on a normal day.  It is like you are making deposits into a bank account of knowledge, establishing a baseline understanding of how your team members act on a normal day when everything in their life is in balance. Then when something is wrong, we can recognize the change. 

Credit: Pinterest quickmeme.com

And the more we listen and observe, the more expert we get in recognizing and interpreting emotions.  The key is to be paying attention TO THEM as we are interacting, and quiet our internal dialogue as they are speaking.

Developing your sense of what’s going on beneath surface-level dialogues and how the people around you actually feel about a situation.

You may recall this example from Leadership 8 about listening.

I had an undergrad intern who moved to DC for the summer and her family lived in the Midwest.  She was a great worker, smart, bubbly, dedicated to helping immigration detainees, and a great leader of the other interns.  One Monday morning I did my usual check-in with all the interns and when I was chatting with her, I received the same words I always did.  “How was your weekend?”  “Good, and yours?”  But what I caught in her tone and body language told me something was wrong.

“Could I speak to you in my office for a second?”  I asked.


We walked into my office, I closed the door, and she burst into tears.  Her father had a history of abusing her mother, and he had beaten her over the weekend.  Usually, my intern was there to intervene or at least to support her mother afterward, but here she was a thousand miles away, absolutely helpless, while her mother was suffering.

We sat and I let her talk it out, after which she settled back in her chair and sighed deeply.  “Thanks for listening, I feel better, but I don’t know what to do today.”

The reason I was able to sense what was going on beneath the surface of the words being spoken on this particular Monday was because we had talked every Monday. I knew her, I knew how she expressed herself, and therefore when things went off the rails in her life, I could hear it in her tone.

I will close few more random suggestion on how to show respect for people on your team.

As an act of kindness, take the darn donut.

People who know me, know that I come in a variety of sizes.  When I am getting close to competing in the sprints in an international Masters Track and Field Championship Meet, I am light and fit.  When I am in my rest period between training cycles, I am not running at all, but I am gulping down beer like I am a drowning man and it’s oxygen. Today during this pandemic I would classify my Body Mass Index as fat and happy. 

But while I was still working in the office I was usually in training, trying to push my weight down to competitive levels, so when someone came into my office offering a donut, I turned them down.  “No thanks, you know me, in training, on a diet.”  But one day it occurred to me that refusing the donut was both disrespectful and unkind.  The person had sought me out to give me a treat, to add a little happiness to my day, they were not trying to sabotage my diet.  They wouldn’t have offered it to me if they didn’t like me, and I may have hurt their feeling by turning it down.  So I changed my behavior and always accepted the donut with an expression of great gratitude.  I may not have eaten the donut, I never had any problem finding a willing taker, but by taking the gift, the giver was happy, I was happy and the person I passed the donut on to was happy.  Not a bad happiness score for a single darned donut.

Get to know each team member, “What should I call you?”

Natasha after being sworn in as a lawyer!

I had a delightful intern named Natasha whose very first question to me is “What shall I call you?” I thought this was brilliant because she was proactively avoiding making the mistake of appearing too formal or too casual. We probably have all done that little dance when starting a new job of trying to figure out how to address the boss and other supervisors.  We listen to how other people address them, then try and determine if we are at the same level as those coworkers, and then take a stab at it. “Oh Jack, I have a question.” If we get a “Yes?” we are okay.  If we get a glare, it is back to “Mr. Rives.”  But Natasha took care of business early by just asking the question straight out. This was a practice I hoped to follow, and usually did, but I must admit I failed to ask this question from time to time, and then learned after 12 weeks of calling someone “Gabriela” that everyone called her “Gabi” except her mother when she was mad and approaching rapidly with a slipper in her hand.

My team always called me Mr. Bob which was both casual and with an honorific at the same time, and it was a nickname I first acquired while teaching at the high school for bad boys and bad girls.  I had started off by letting the students call me Bob, but the principal suggested this was inappropriate, so I asked the students to call me Mr. Bob which they thought was funny and everyone was happy.  Well, most students were happy. Six months later I did have a student/teacher/parent meeting for a new student and I introduced myself to the parent as Bob Lang and forever after that student didn’t trust me because he thought I had been intentionally mocking him by making him believe Bob was my last name.

Respect you team by getting to know the goals of each member and helping them reach them.

As you get to know your team members you can help them focus on planning their next career steps.  I always told my team “Your internship does not end until you get a job.  Most people get their first job because they know someone who works in the office they are applying to, or they know somebody who knows somebody.  The bad news for you is, you don’t know anyone; the good news for you is, when it comes to immigration, I know everyone.  So when you start applying for internships or jobs, let me know and let’s see if I know someone I can recommend you to because, as unfair as it may be,  all it takes to move your resume from the middle of the pile to the top is a living, breathing person saying, ‘I know them, they are good.’”  And I was able to make many connections, and with 126 interns over nine years, my interns started being interviewed for new jobs by other former interns.  I received this picture when recent college grad  Cynthia Galez was interviewed by former intern, now a staff attorney, Jackie Zamarripa.

Cynthia and Jackie

I also did many informational interviews for students who wanted to know about getting involved in social justice work.  Many people helped me get started, and I wanted to pass those favors forward.

Always be willing to mentor others.

We once had a woman apply for our internship who we liked very much but when we invited her to join our team she turned us down and accepted another internship in Washington, DC.  I invited her to come visit our office when she moved to DC which she did later in the summer, and she shared her experiences in her own interesting internship and she got to meet our team.  I made the same offer to help her get a job after she graduated that I made to my interns.  A year later she contacted me because she wanted to work in immigration and was looking for a job in DC and together we got her a job.  Two years later she contacted me again and we launched another search for a new position, this time on the west coast.  As we were strategizing on where she should be applying, we had this discussion.

“Can I ask you a question, Mr. Bob?  You invited me to be on your team and I turned you down.  So why are you working so hard to get me jobs, FOR THE SECOND TIME?”

“I invited you to be on my team because you have a good heart and you are dedicated to helping people in crisis and my perception of you did not change because you took another internship.  And the reason I willing to work with you for a second time is simple.  If my daughter needed help and someone was in the position to help her, I would hope they would do so.  Social justice advocates are a family, you are part of my family, I will always help you.”

Practice speaking last after you have allowed everyone else to express their opinion.

“Good leaders ask questions which bring options, bad bosses make decrees which eliminates options.”

I am going to have a post about leaders speaking last, but for now, you can show interest in the team members’ ideas by being the last to speak in a meeting. Bring up the topic, “We need a better way of determining which detention center are not calling us.  How can we do that?” Then let them brainstorm ideas. Of course, I have my preferred method of accomplishing the mission, but I want their input before I speak.  Nelson Mandela stressed that by allowing everyone to speak before you as leader give your opinion, you can gain from their insights and allow everyone to feel their ideas were considered and valued.  And I have to admit that every time I received input from my team, my original idea was improved.

Credit: The New York Times

Talk less, listen more and better, speak last. Listen to people with complete attention.

I have sat in meetings with a bad boss as they laid out their plan for a project in great detail, then they would look around the room and ask for suggestions or opinionsAnd I always had to avoid making eye contact with other team members at this point because I was trying not to smile at that this completely phony display of interest in our opinions. My friends described this part of the meeting as “The Lion Tamer Moment” – it was similar to being at the circus when you had just watched the lion tamer snapping his whip and making the lions jump through hoops, and the lions are are annoyed and snarling at him, and then he addresses the crowd, “Step right up! Who wants to be first to put their head in the lion’s mouth?”  No thank you. My silence is golden.

Make time for fun.

“A happy team will give 100% as they work, so what appears to be lost time by doing something fun as a team is actually investing in future productivity and creativity.” I can’t remember where I copied this.  Sorry, author.

You may think that “happy” and “in the office” are incompatible phrases, but when a leader is enjoying their work, and coming up with activities that are fun, their spirit infects their team. 

So as a reward for reading this far, let’s go out with two videos that are fun.

I read somewhere that happy hour with your team could be a good team builder, I always believed in this and when I was the leader in two offices we would have a “beer alert” to celebrate a victory, or mourn a loss. Our philosophy was summed up by Alan Jackson (whose music I learned to love while working in Iowa and Texas where country music is a religion) and Jimmy Buffett (who provided the soundtrack for our 2 years living on a sailboat.)  In my offices we didn’t see the need to wait until the end of the day for happy hour to start, our rallying cry as we packed up and trooped out of the office was, “It may be only half past 12, but I don’t care, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!”

And if you don’t know Jimmy Buffett, shame on you!  He set the tone for our sailing adventure on the Iowa Waltz where, as predicted, with changes in latitudes we felt changes in our attitudes.

Our Sailboat, The Iowa Waltz, 1983 – 1985, San Diego and Mexico

See original video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skGsxZLNYEE

Coming Attractions: Leadership 15: You must respect your team members’ skills. They are not just interchangeable cogs in a machine.

Published by Robert Lang

Social Justice lawyer and mentor, nurturing calmness, kindness, and adventure. Just trying to leave something good behind.

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