Leaders play a critical role in building productive and respectful teams. They are not exclusively responsible for all that happens in a workplace (despite the one-line memes shouting at them on social media) – but they are certainly important.
Almost all leaders with whom I work know this. They want their teams to succeed. They want their organizations to thrive. They do not want to get in the way of this. They are not seeking to purposely stress out those around them. However, all too often, they are expected – by stakeholders and executive teams – to meet many competing and important obligations, under tight (and often questionable) deadlines. At the same time, they are given little – if any – practical training on how to simultaneously meet these demands while leading in a way that allows their team members to feel respected and supported.
Often without intention, front-line leaders are being set up for failure; and are then being blamed and shamed for that failure when it materializes.
Much of what any supervisor and manager needs to know and do comes down to my “3Ms and 3Rs” framework of Respectful Leadership.
The 3 Ms:
In order to create a successful, respectful and productive workplace, workplace supervisors, managers and senior leaders must do the following (and they must be supported in doing so by those above and around them):
- Model what you want to see in others: your day-to-day work ethic, professionalism and behavior is the most influential training that staff receive in how to work, how to communicate and how to treat others. You either model acceptable behavior or give others permission to engage in unacceptable behavior. Act accordingly;
- Monitor your team for signs and symptoms of dysfunction and hold team members accountable (clearly and respectfully) for their disrespect and dysfunction; and
- Mitigate all types of risk to your organization by properly reporting any concerns that come to your attention in a timely manner.
No exceptions, no excuses. When things go sideways, your actions – and inaction – as a leader will be scrutinized by judges and journalists alike (not to mention those who report to you for day-to-day guidance and direction).
The 3 Rs:
The 3 Ms remind leaders of what they must do. But how? This is where the 3 Rs kick in. To meet legal, cultural and staff expectations associated with “effective leadership”, leaders should engage in the following:
- Respectful Conduct and Communication: There is no such thing – in the real world – as “Do as I say but not as I speak”. Leaders must ensure that their communication towards and about others is respectful in content and tone and relevant to the workplace and circumstances at hand. Communication includes words being spoken as well as those that are written; and includes texts, emails, and posts on social media.
- Respectful Decision-Making: Leaders instill trust (or mistrust) in how they make and communicate work-related decisions. Are their hiring and promotional decisions based upon relevant factors (such as work performance and productivity) or irrelevant ones (such as friendships, falling outs and other personal interests)? Do they resolve conflicts on their team objectively (if at all)? Do they inquire into and respond to complaints fairly? Do they communicate their decisions in a transparent and meaningful way? When leaders consistently make and communicate decisions properly, team members might disagree with a particular outcome, but will undoubtedly trust the process that was followed.
- Respectful Accountability: Many memes out there appear to suggest that leaders alone are responsible for creating a culture of respect and inclusion. This is simply not the case. Many of those who create disruptive and disrespectful workplaces are not “leaders” yet practically speaking, “rule the roost” through their persistent disrespect towards everyone and anyone around them. Leaders must be supported in holding these individuals accountable, through measured and timely consequences. They cannot be expected to create a culture of respect and productivity in the absence of accountability for others; and they should not be expected to do this on their own. Senior leaders and HR need to support them in doing the right thing, in the right way, day in and day out.
I have been working with organizations for well over 25 years. Based on my experience, I can say, without hesitation, that if workplaces mandate the 3 Ms and 3 Rs for their leaders – and then support leaders in meeting these expectations – they will see a marked and meaningful improvement in engagement, productivity, and day-to-day respect and inclusion. What more could we ask for?