Finding Balance: Respect and Civility

Finding Balance: Respect and Civility

What are respect and civility? How does it feel? How does a leader manage respect among employees? What does it take for an employee to feel respected?

These questions are just a small part of what leaders can ask. According to Christine Porath, a researcher at Georgetown University, who researched about 20,000 employees across the globe, found that respect was “the most important leadership behavior.” Her findings also suggested that leaders do not pay much attention to this aspect of their leadership, something employees are acutely aware. Additional findings in Porath’s research was that she identified two types of respect. The first is owed respect, and the other is earned respect.

Owed Respect

The way a leader shows owed respect is equal and level across the department and the organization. As each individual is unique, communication and observance of this uniqueness require leaders to acknowledge them with this in mind. This form of respect is civil and suggests that each member of the organization is equally valuable. Unfortunately, leaders will sometimes not show civility and respect, but will otherwise display a style that includes over-monitoring and micromanagement, incivility and abuse of power, and also suggest that employees are inter-changeable parts of a chessboard.

Earned Respect

Different than owed respect, respecting individual employees for their valued qualities and behaviors is the definition of earned respect. Valuing employees on their individual merit is a necessary quality and affirms that an employee’s unique strengths and talents should be recognized. Unfortunately, leaders can sometimes undermine this relationship by taking credit for their employee’s success and not recognize their accomplishments to others.

Finding Leadership Balance

A leader needs to be acutely aware of which type of respect to use and when to use it. If the leader leans on one type of respect over another, there may be unintended consequences. For example, if the leader overuses owed respect, employees will not be encouraged to perform at the level they are capable. The employee’s perception is one that if everyone is going to be treated the same, why should I excel at my job. On the other hand, leaning too much on earned respect can pit one employee against another by creating a highly competitive environment. An unintended consequence of this action can lead to silos where communication among the team is discouraged, and department information is not shared for the benefit of everyone.

For the leader to find the right balance can create enormous benefits for the department or organization. Employees will feel respected and are much more satisfied with their jobs; they also become more resilient, are more creative, and are more likely to take direction from leadership. Consider the following analogy about respect: Respect is like air, if respect is displayed appropriately, nobody thinks about it, but display the incorrect mix and it is the only thing employees will talk about. Consider this a metric to monitor.

Greg Price

Associate Dean

School of Applied Leadership