Jimmy Johnson probably said it best, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” This is especially true in leadership. Getting the business fundamentals right is critical for success, but how you treat your people is that little “extra” that can truly inspire an organization.
The problem is that too many leaders don’t recognize this. Harvard Business Review (HBR) just released a study of 20,000 people around the world and found that a majority (54%) of employees felt their leaders didn’t treat them with respect on a regular basis.
Christine Porath, a professor at Georgetown University, studied in greater detail why leaders are so disrespectful. She learned that more than 60% said that they were too busy to take the time to be nice. 29% claimed they were just acting like other leaders in their organization and 4% admitted that they’re disrespectful on purpose because they can get away with it.
This lack of respect and civility has a real impact on employee engagement. The HBR study found that being treated with respect was more important to employee engagement than any other factor. Employees who said their boss treated them with respect were 55% more engaged.
The truth is, it’s not that difficult or time-consuming to display genuine respect for your employees. It’s that little “extra” you can do to create a positive work environment where people genuinely want to do their best every day. In 25 years as a leader, I found these 10 simple activities can really make a difference:
1. Be present – Never underestimate the power of your presence. You need to be there. You need to walk around. You can’t lead your company from behind your desk. Employees need to see you and you need to see them.
2. Focus on them – When engaging employees, remember it’s not about you. Ask them questions. Find out about them. Find out what’s on their minds. Most corporate communication is top-down but when you talk with employees, this is a chance for a more interactive dialogue.
3. Be polite – It doesn’t take any extra time to say please, thank you, and acknowledge that you appreciate someone’s effort. I was shocked to learn from a former employee that I was her favorite boss because I was always polite to her and it was a rare trait. It shouldn’t be rare to be civil.
4. Don’t forget to smile – As a leader, you are being watched daily and your attitude is contagious. Even if you are having a bad day, force yourself to be positive and smile when engaging employees. I had an employee who complained that one of my staff never smiled. He was actually one of my best leaders but he had a tendency to walk around with his head down. He was simply concentrating but employees thought he was upset all the time.
5. Give them your full attention – Nothing says disrespect more than ignoring an employee. When it comes to employee interactions, never multi-task. Stop what you are doing and acknowledge them. It’s acceptable to let them know you need a minute to wrap up what you are doing but then put it away and give them 100% of your attention.
6. Send thank you notes – A simple note thanking an employee for their extra effort helps reinforce the right employee behaviors. It shows you care. I also like to send the notes to their home where they can open them in front of their family.
7. Send get well cards – I keep a stack of “get well” cards in my desk to send to employees who are sick or having surgery. It’s a simple thing that shows you care about them as a person.
8. Attend funerals – Rudy Guiliani famously said, “Weddings are optional, but funerals are mandatory.” I try to attend the funerals of family members of my direct reports and those of employees or recent retirees. This can be time consuming but it is a critical way to show respect.
9. Welcome new employees – I once had a boss who sent a large basket of cookies and snacks to my home after he hired me. In it was a note that said, “I’m looking forward to all the great things I know you will do.” It was a simple gesture that I will never forget. I always try to do the same for new hires to my direct staff.
10. Promote a culture of respect – It is important you select leaders who share your desire to show respect to employees. The primary reason employees leave companies is poor leadership of front line managers. Make sure your leadership team knows the importance you place on respect by promoting those that display the right behaviors.
To be an extraordinary leader, you have to love people. You need to do the little “extra” things to show you care, you are listening, and you recognize your employees’ efforts. Most leaders claim they don’t have enough time to show respect to their employees yet they seem to find time to deal with the aftermath of poor employee morale and engagement. I challenge you to try these 10 simple activities in 2015 and see if it makes a difference in your organization.