The text message arrived on a friend’s phone last Tuesday: “This is the most disrespectful place I’ve ever worked.”


“What triggered the text?,” I asked. Was the Worker being sexually harassed, the subject of gossip, were co-workers condescending to her?

No, it turns out. It was far more subtle than that, and, because of its subtlety, it’s probably something that happens with far more frequency than any of the more blatant issues in the workplace that we associate with a lack of respect.

The Worker had been assigned a critical project. So critical, in fact, that the deadlines had been drastically compressed—work needed to be done, and it needed to be done fast. The Manager would review the work and it would be the topic of a call with an important Steering Committee in 5 days.

The Worker toiled tirelessly—day, night and weekend—to meet the 5-day deadline. Through the process, in order to verify the Worker was on the right track, she sent emails to the Manager with the work product to date. She let the Manager know that she needed feedback to ensure the best possible product. She called the Manager. She scheduled calls with the Manager that were not accepted.

The days were ticking by with no word, so the Worker did what she knew to do—she kept moving forward.

The day of the call with the Steering Committee came and the Worker still hadn’t received any feedback.

The Worker got everyone assembled on the call, including the Manager.

During the call, the Worker received no real-time feedback from the Manager. No affirmatives “ah hahs,” no “that’s interesting; share what else you considered…”

Unbeknownst to the Worker, the Manager was unhappy with the job the Worker did on the project. Without giving the Worker the feedback she’d asked for, or any direction on how to move forward with it, the Manager re-assigned the project to one of the Worker’s peers by email during the call.

Finishing the call with the Steering Committee and, still not having any feedback, the Worker hung up the phone feeling as though she’d done a good job. She then saw she had a voicemail message. When she retrieved it, it was the Peer letting her know that the Manager had turned over responsibility for the project.

Wow – part deux.

Our job as leaders is primarily to leverage and align the talents of everyone in our organizations. That means helping each person with whom we work be as successful as they can possibly be. To do that, we must:

  • Give our people all the information they need to do their jobs
  • Be available and listen
  • Make supportive eye contact
  • Ask why—discovering other people’s perspectives can help us better understand why they approach a project in the way they do
  • Be responsive, even if it’s to share the expectation of when we will be able to provide meaningful feedback if we’re not available at the moment
  • Share feedback on performance in a way that leaves the person whole and feeling more capable, not less
  • Most importantly, we must take the majority of the responsibility for our people’s success or lack thereof. This is one of the most basic tenets of a respectful workplace.

While the Manager was on the call with the Steering Committee, he probably would have had better luck with a different course of action. Instead of using that time to re-assign the project to the Peer via email, he should have been opening a desk drawer to pull out a mirror. That way, he would have seen the person most responsible for the work viewed as sub-standard: Himself.

Not surprisingly, the Worker’s next text message was about her newly launched job search as she sought a better work environment…and a more qualified manager.

As we enter a new week, consider these questions:

  1. Could any of your workers have sent that text?
  2. What will you do this week to help your people be as successful as they can be?
  3. Where do you keep your mirror?
  4. Are you courageous enough to look into it?