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Modeling Respect as a Leader

Ways that a leader can model respect and develop a respectful climate in their organization.

This is the eighth article in a series on collaboration and conflict resolution. Read the introduction to the entire series here.

Like trust, respect has degrees on a continuum. It can range from disrespect on one end, to a lack of respect, to a basic “no frills” respect, and finally to full respect on the other end of the continuum. Respect is foundational to healthy, successful neighborhood associations that work well together for the common good. Without it, working relationships are severely constrained and can never creatively leverage differences.

Respect comes from the root word 'respicere' meaning to look again. It involves some degree of acknowledgement and engagement, as opposed to disregard or dismissal of the concerns of another. It is a positive feeling of regard, esteem, or deference for another. When you respect someone, their opinions have weight, their well-being matters to you, and you treat them with consideration.

There is a common reality in many neighborhoods and communities. You may not like or respect some neighbors. You cannot effectively pretend to respect someone. You offer respect to those who merit receiving it. It often takes time for someone to earn your respect through their actions, yet one rude act or mistake can lose it. However, the mission of the organization requires respectful relating and communicating in order to collaborate. This presents a challenge when you don't respect someone.

The response to this challenge is an understanding of 'no-frills' respect. When a creative, collaborative relationship is desirable or necessary, and you do not respect someone, you must find the will to treat them as you would like to be treated. The simplest way to do this is by extending a basic level of respect to everyone without conditions. They may not have earned full respect, but it is wise and effective to offer a basic level of respect. Why? Because the purpose of an association to serve the best interests of the neighborhood requires working together. If someone is treated with coolness and indifference, this risks offending and increasing tension that may affect the capacity of the association, lower the morale of others, or eliminate the opportunity for creative engagement.

"Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those who are present."
George Washington

No-frills respect starts by avoiding disrespect in any form:

  • Avoid speaking negatively about someone to others (backbiting)
  • Avoid spreading gossip and rumors about someone
  • Avoid acting with coldness and indifference when you see someone
  • Avoid ignoring or failing to acknowledge someone, e.g. refusing to greet or speak to them
  • Avoid being unwilling to engage with and listen to someone

 Then, you need to do three things:

  • Maintain basic civility: Always use common courtesy and manners toward everyone. Make sure that any requests you make of others demonstrate basic respect.
  • Always engage constructively: Provide a 'fair hearing' to those with whom you disagree. Listening is a universal gesture of respect. Therefore, even if you have reached a place where you can only agree to disagree, you may also be able to sense that there is genuine respect and some degree of understanding between you.
  • Keep an open communication channel: Make sure the 'door' remains open and check in with them periodically. Closed 'doors' generate mistrust and could lead to polarization that can be toxic to a neighborhood association.