Most of us have had at least one opportunity to report to a truly great leader or manager. Great leaders inspire us, challenge us, help us see the big picture and find ways to get the best out of us (sometimes even more than we knew was there ourselves). Unfortunately, many of us have had the opposite experience as well. Working for a poor leader or manager can leave us feeling confused, alienated, ineffective and demotivated. In the worst cases, poor leaders may even cause us to doubt ourselves, not care whether or not we do a good job…or even leave to find greener pastures. What’s the difference? Great leaders make us feel connected, respected and capable. Poor leaders don’t. Here are a few strategies that you can use to leverage respect and become the great leader that you’re capable of becoming.

1- Focus on psychological safety

The single, best indicator of a respectful workplace is that employees feel safe bringing their full, authentic selves to work each day. And this starts with you. It’s your job to make sure that everyone who reports to you has the benefit of being able to do their best work in an environment free from the toxicity of blame, favoritism, bias, gossip or other negative elements of office politics. If you want the best out of your employees, you must make it safe for them (all of them) to bring their best.

2- Value and esteem your people

While it may seem like a little thing, nobody ever hears, “Hey, you’re awesome…glad you’re part of our team!” too often. Treating and interacting with your employees in manner that makes them feel validated, respected and proud not only increases their willingness to give their best effort, but it also increases loyalty. Don’t take the chance of losing a great employee because he or she didn’t feel like the work they did mattered or they themselves were important.

3- Take time to provide perspective

There’s nothing more frustrating to a high performer than not knowing what success looks like for him or her on the job. That means it is your job to provide both direction and, on occasion, perspective. What are the short-term wins to strive for daily and the long-term gains these will lead to that will help your organization outperform its competitors? How can they overcome small setbacks, learn from their mistakes and stay the course? Sometimes it’s tough for employees to see where they are in the big picture when they’re in the trenches with their heads down, doing the hard work. It’s your job to keep them on track and show them the way forward.

4- Encourage work-life balance

Don’t tell your employees that respect is an important part of the culture and then violate that value by expecting them to work 60+ hours a week, forgoing everything else of importance in their lives. I’ve seen this culture and style of leadership many times over the past two decades and can say categorically that it does not work; at least not for long. Good employees get burned out, then they become frustrated and resentful. Then they disengage and leave. Remember, good leaders help their people become better employees. But the best leaders encourage their employees to become better people. And becoming our best requires balance.

5- Recognize contributions

Similar to valuing and esteeming people, take the time to recognize the specific contributions that your employees make. This supports personal worth and value and can help “connect the dots” between specific accomplishments and the overall success of your organization. For example, consider the following: “Thanks for staying late to finish that report, last night Caitlin. Because of your effort, we were able to jump on a new client opportunity today that very few people even knew existed.” When you take the time to acknowledge and appreciate the specific efforts of your employees, they feel respected, capable and smart. So, don’t just think, “Thank you.” Make the time to say it.

6- Practice fairness and equity

Employees pay attention to seemingly little things. Like who gets invited to attend certain meetings, who sits where in those meetings, who is given high-profile assignments and who is invited to lunch with the boss. They also pay attention to who is held accountable and who is given a pass when rules are not followed. A big part of practicing respect is cultivating a work culture where your employees know that each person will be given the same privileges and held accountable to the same standards every day. While it is human nature to be biased and have favorites, show your commitment to equity and fairness by pausing each day and making sure that that every one of your employees is working on a level playing field.

7- Continually improve your self-awareness

Nobody sees themselves with complete clarity and objectivity. We are human after all and tend to see ourselves as we would like to be perceived, not how we actually come across to others. This is especially true for leaders and managers. Simply by virtue of the number of people who are relying upon you for direction, clarification, feedback or support, getting an accurate gauge of how your style and behaviors are experienced by others is challenging. So cultivate humility and make it safe for others to give you feedback when they think it helpful. And if the opportunity arises, participate in a 360 survey where those at all levels around you can offer their candid thoughts on both your strengths and improvement opportunities. Remember, leaders are humans too. You are a human becoming and the surest way to become the best leader possible is to know where you’re starting from and try to raise your own bar a little bit each and every day.

As a leader, learning to connect with respect is one of the most powerful strategies you will ever develop to help create a culture where you employees will not just survive, but thrive. And the best part is, you will be setting a powerful example that leaves a legacy of future leaders to help grow your organization long into the future.


Paul Meshanko, CSP
Author of The Respect Effect

To book Paul to work with your leaders or employees, contact our office in Annapolis, MD so we can better understand your needs.

Experience Legacy Business Cultures training programs April 16-17 in historic downtown Annapolis, Maryland

Inclusion starts with respect. Tackle poor behaviors and bias head on with the training company and facilitator trusted by the world’s top employers.

Connecting with Respect
April 16 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Blindsided: Uncovering, Understanding, and Managing Bias
April 17 @ 8:00 am – 2:30 pm

Safe Spaces: Recognizing and Preventing Harassment in the Workplace
February 17 @ 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm