What respect really means

We may have different abilities and we play different roles, but we are not of different value. Each person in an organization plays an important role. All are worthy of respect and attention.

Although great leaders treat all with the same level of respect, they do not lead everyone the same. Great leaders lead every person differently, focusing on and enhancing their strengths. This brings out the best in productivity and leadership in the person. This creates new leaders and it strengthens teamwork.

An excellent leader says “we” and not “I”. They know success is a group effort.

To build a strong organization, you must respect every member of it. Here are some thoughts on what that means.

Respect is based on positive thinking. You believe the best of people, and have patience to wait for their goodness to play out. The opposite is to be suspicious of the intentions of people, and to take their occasional showings of weakness as a permanent characteristic of theirs. A strong leader will see through the negative situations and find the positive value that everyone can bring. Doing this is the same as showing respect. A strong leader also roots out disrespect whenever it occurs in the organization. Disrespectful behavior must not be tolerated, and it’s the top leader who must set a clear example.

People have different abilities and play different roles in the organization. But they are all in the organization for a reason. They all deserve to be respected and given attention.

It’s important to note that respect does not mean the same as being nice. On the contrary, between people who respect each other you can see the most vivid and vocal disagreements. Those disagreements form a vital part of proper decision-making. To be able to make good decisions, you must be able to vocally disagree. To be able to do that, you must trust and respect each other. Respect, in other words, is a cornerstone of good decision-making.



Let’s talk about respect. Successful leaders respect their team, they respect the people who work for them. This can be difficult especially if you are a young leader or a young CEO and you get appointed in the role. You may rightly think that you’re really, really good, and you may think you’re a little bit better than the rest, and that’s why you are the boss.

That’s a dangerous thought to be on if that means that you stop respecting others. Leaders who have a lot of power also need to show a lot of respect for the people who work for them, otherwise they cannot be successful.

Showing respect means that you understand that everybody has an important role to play. Nobody is more valuable than anybody else. Everybody has their own skills and people have different roles. Some people have bigger roles, but at the end of the day we are all human beings worthy of the same respect. When the leader instills such respect and respects people and instills it in the organization, you get a strong culture and a culture where people will work together.

For that to happen, you must see the value in people. You must be ready to patiently wait for them to blossom and wait for them to become productive, and help them with it. You do that by respecting what they stand for, building on that respect, and building strength out of what you are seeing. That’s what respect is.

There’s also the collective respect, respecting the whole group. It takes another side of the whole topic here. When you have an organization working for a very lofty and ambitious goal and there’s somebody who isn’t producing what he or she should, and repeatedly doesn’t and can’t improve, then out of respect for the whole organization, you as a leader must take action. Sometimes you must remove the person from the organization.

Everybody has some job in which they’re perfect and which they’re highly productive. But if they are in the wrong group, then the leader has to take action, because not doing it will be disrespectful to everybody else who is working very hard. As a leader, when you get appointed to the leadership position, you show respect for the people around you by understanding their strengths, building on them and ensuring that everybody is showing respect to everybody. That’s how a strong company culture is built.

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  1. Thanks again for the clear facts placed on the table. Yesterday, we gave a group presentation on servant leadership, which very much is in the lines with this article as well. We were discussing a lot its benefits and potential downsides. While it’s very close to transformational leadership, I think it’s certainly applicable to smaller and bigger teams where the leader shows by example how to lead the people. Respect being the key and making the others grow to their fullest potential.

    Having worked in organizations where leading has been either totally absent, led by fear or micromanaging it seems such a waste of everyone’s time (and money). Why throw so much of finances away on bad leadership when you can get a win-win situation for everybody? Seems so short-sighted. The future work forces won’t be satisfied with damping leadership for sure, it’s already evident. 🙂 Hooray for that!

    I’m interested how we can get this to be the standard model for all small and middle sized companies because most of the workers are working in them. So much unleashed energies there it would really create a lot of innovations and growth to any country, not just Finland.

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