Do's and Don'ts of Respectful Leadership

Respectful leadership is a leadership style characterised by treating others with dignity, fairness, and understanding. This style of leadership is not only crucial for creating a positive work environment, but it is also essential for building trust and fostering effective communication within teams. 

To successfully influence the people, you lead healthily and productively without micro-managing or resorting to bullying tactics, it's essential to learn this vital skill to obtain beneficial, measurable, and sustainable business results in any industry. 

After all, respect is a two-way street because if you desire to be respected and enjoy personal job satisfaction, you must give genuine respect to those around you. 

What does psychology tell us about respectful leadership?

Extensive scientific research has shown that humans experience several primary psychological needs, which include: 

  1. Autonomy: The need for independence is high on the list. People want to feel in control of their lives and the situations in which they find themselves.  
  2. Relatedness: Most people need to relate to others and cultivate social bonds where they feel valued and connected. 
  3. Competence: An essential need for humans is the importance of feeling that they are of value and that what they do matters in life.  

Together, the three needs outlined above shape a person's self-determination. Therefore, successful leaders who consistently demonstrate respect for those they lead naturally foster self-determination as an experience for others. In addition, this experience makes it much easier for others to identify with you and your vision. 

Understanding the neuroscience of respect

The neocortex is that part of your brain where cognitive, rational, and higher-level thinking happens. It's the most recent part of the human brain to have evolved. 

When experiencing respect or disrespect from another, you will generally have emotions that don't have much to do with your neocortex. 

Instead, what you feel is more likely to do with what is known as the Reptilian brain, a more primitive part of your brain in the Limbic centre that is home to automatic behaviours not driven by rational thought. 

If you perceive someone disrespecting you, the Reptilian brain goes into self-preservation mode and instinctively puts you into a "fight, flight or freeze" response, which causes the release of the chemical hormones' adrenaline and cortisol. 

Interestingly when you feel respected by another, your body releases the hormones oxytocin and serotonin, giving you a different experience. 

These are strong chemicals, and when they flow through your body, they can drastically reduce your rational, logical thinking ability, which means that nearly everyone, no matter how smart, mature, and sensible they are, will have an automatic and emotional response to being disrespected. 

Some tips for leading others with respect

Here's a handy list of Do's and Don't of leadership that every team leader should understand. 

Five Do's to practice as a respectful leader: 

  • Do give respect: Offer others respect first rather than waiting for them to show you some respect. 
  • Do be accountable: Not only for your actions but also for your outcomes. 
  • Do ask for help: It shows strength and makes for a stronger, more efficient team. 
  • Do trust your team: To work independently whilst balancing this with the right level of support. 
  • Do recognise and reward: Acknowledge skills, perspectives, characteristics and qualities worthy of respect while encouraging team members to do likewise. 

Five Don'ts to keep in mind: 

  • Don't talk more than you listen: A great leader brings together everyone else's ideas and makes them work in unison. However, this can only happen when you hear what others say. 
  • Don't isolate yourself from your team: You will likely miss out on vital help and critical information from others and weaken your team. 
  • Don't be afraid to make (and admit to) mistakes: Aim to work to the best of your ability, and when the mistakes happen, learn from them and move on. 
  • Don't kiss up and put down: Bullying can appear in many nuanced ways, including dominating, intimidating, harassing, or embarrassing another to make them feel inferior. Be on the lookout for it from others and watch your own behaviour. 
  • Don't tolerate disrespectful behaviours: High levels of stress can cause people to be rude. Understand this whilst also being clear that you will not tolerate discourteous or offensive behaviour. 

The bottom line is that respect is a fundamental human value that plays a crucial role in your leadership ability. Recognising and considering the inherent dignity, rights, and worth of every person within your span of care paves the way for a more productive workplace and can dramatically benefit your wellbeing. 

At Balance2life, our Journey to Leading WELL can guide you to develop the skills and capabilities needed to foster professional relationships so that you can feel more confident and empowered in your leadership role.  

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