What's the No. 1 leadership quality when it comes to engaging employees? Providing lots of feedback? Inspiring them constantly with your vision? Implementing generous recognition or training programs?
Actually, it's something much simpler. In her research, Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, found that treating employees with respect trumps all else.
"No other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the outcomes we measured," she writes in Harvard Business Review.
My own experiences as an executive coach echo her findings. Treating your team members with respect takes employee loyalty and engagement to a whole new level. Here are three ideas for infusing your work style with more respect.
Respect the Roles that Others Play
One of my clients works with a boss who micromanages her. But he doesn't stop there — he also micromanages employees a couple of levels below her. As you'd expect, it's driving everyone crazy.
Although his intent is positive (to help drive high quality work and provide input and guidance), his style indirectly conveys disrespect for the knowledge and expertise his team members bring to the table, as well as their roles. As a result, his direct reports feel mistrusted because he doesn’t allow them to do their jobs without his constant intervention and input.
Sometimes letting go can be difficult, so try some of these ideas to help your team members grow by delegating with development in mind. Just remember that when you give employees the leeway to figure out how to tackle their work, they typically gain more confidence and develop skills faster (not to mention the fact that it takes work off your plate when you decide not to get so involved). They may make some mistakes along the way, but that will also accelerate their learning.
Choose the Right Setting for Feedback
How and where you give feedback often matters just as much as the feedback itself. Giving negative feedback in a group setting, whether it’s a meeting or conference call, can leave the recipient feeling embarrassed and disrespected (and her level of respect for you might drop a couple of notches, too). This doesn't mean you should hold back on giving feedback. Just choose the right time and place, and deliver it in a way that conveys how much you want to help the individual be successful.
Watch Your Tone
Although most of us know that little things can affect executive presence in big ways, we may not stop to think about it for ourselves. Leaders are always in the “invisible spotlight.” As you contemplate your communication style, think about how much respect you convey with your tone of voice and body language. To get a better sense, notice how others respond to you. In particular, pay attention to how often your team members seek true coaching and advice vs. approval (there is a difference, so don’t mistake one for the other). Remember that if employees don't feel respected, they may still comply with your requests — they just won’t have a strong level of commitment, which is key to taking performance and results above and beyond.
This week, look for opportunities to put at least one of these three strategies into action. And remember that respect is just one part of helping your team members achieve their best results. You can find many more strategies in "Building a Stronger Team," part of the Leadership EDGE SeriesSM booklets.