Demonstrating Respectful Leadership

By | April 29, 2009

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My recently released book Road to Respect: Path to Profit, teaches that workplace leaders interested in building a respectful workplace culture must “walk the talk” of respect. Chapter 7, entitled Respectful Leadership, highlights concrete behaviours leaders can adopt to demonstrate respect to those they lead.

Last month Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston faced a problem confronting far too many leaders these days.  His organization was facing a $20 million shortfall as a result of the struggling economy. He had to take some action to cover that shortfall.

The obvious solution was to cut staff. Six hundred positions were identified for layoff.  However, Mr. Levy had another idea. He wanted everyone to give up a little so that more people could remain employed. He preferred to reduce the salaries and benefits of   all employees rather than laying off some of them.

As CEO he had the power to impose that decision upon everyone, but he chose not to. Instead he called a meeting of all of the Medical Center employees. He told them about the problem their organization was facing and asked for their input in resolving it.  He shared his idea and asked employees for their ideas.

But wait a minute here. I mean, aren’t leaders supposed to be “leading” and employees “following”? Aren’t leaders the ones that are supposed to make the decisions and tell others what to do?

That depends on how you define leadership. Ask yourself how respectful it feels to you when someone arbitrarily makes a decision that affects you, your job or your workplace without involving you in it. Conversely, how respectful does it seem when your leader demonstrates that you matter by consulting you and asking for your input on work related issues.

A respectful workplace is characterized by ongoing communication and dialogue among leaders and those they lead. Rather than imposing a decision, a respectful leader empowers employees by seeking their ideas and involving them in the decision making process. This produces a culture of connection, leadership and resilience.

Mr. Levy’s actions clearly demonstrate the principles of respectful leadership.  He chose to share the problem his organization was facing as well as the responsibility for resolving it. After the meeting he received over 600 emails from employees with ideas that have resulted in $16 million in savings, equivalent to 450 jobs. They are continuing to work together on alternatives to layoffs. His respectful approach has resulted in a win/win outcome for everyone concerned.

How about following Mr. Levy’s example the next time you are facing an organizational challenge. Choose to walk the talk of respect.

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