Show respect

Culture  Leadership
09 October, 2017

Ten recommendations to earn your team’s respect and foster a more respectful culture

Have you ever belittled a team member in front of others? Or perhaps used inappropriate language?  Or screamed during a meeting? Or do you brow-beat your team members?

Such behaviour could point to a lack of treating others with respect.

However, disrespect can take place in more subtle ways as well. For instance, do you constantly look at your phone while your team is trying to talk to you? Do you cut off people mid-way in a conversation? Do you talk about people behind their backs? Do you always come late to meetings? Do you only give feedback when something goes wrong? Do you forget to say thank you?

Many times, this kind of behaviour is a result of thoughtlessness, rather than the meanness that drives more overt bullying. Still, regardless of intent, these little things add up to a disrespectful leadership style. By not valuing your team – their time, contributions, feelings – you are essentially disrespecting them.

Christine Porath, professor at Georgetown University, in a study of nearly 20,000 employees around the world (conducted with the Harvard Business Review), found that being treated with respect was more important than anything when it came to commitment and engagement from employees. Respect was more important than recognition, feedback or even opportunities for growth and development.

During the course of the many discussions that we had on The Godrej Way (our refreshed values and purpose), being treated with respect too came out as one of the most important values that we need to stand for at Godrej. Many of our team members talked about the need to feel valued and treat each other in a fair and transparent manner – and with respect.

In fact, respect is that intangible, coveted something (call it “the X factor” if you like) that can dramatically change life, not just at the workplace, but pretty much anywhere. Its absence can make things extremely unpleasant and difficult. Its presence, on the other hand, can inspire people to come in and give the organisation their very best – day after day, year after year.

However, even though leaders know that showing respect is critical, many of us struggle to consistently demonstrate it.

As leaders, we all want to be respected. The thing about respect though, is that it needs to be earned. Just because you have a certain title or position doesn’t mean that people will automatically respect you. People may be respectful of you, but they may not necessarily respect you. And a respected leader is not always liked by everyone or is popular. You may be well liked, but that doesn’t mean you will be respected.

So, drawing from this, my message this week is on how to ‘Show Respect’ (which is also one of our core values at GCPL) – and especially how it relates to effective leadership. 

In The Godrej Way, we have defined respect as:

  • We treat people like we would want to be treated
  • We embrace and celebrate diversity
  • We foster collaboration

How can we, as leaders, work towards earning the respect of our team members, and fostering an overall culture of respect? Here are ten recommendations: 

1. Treat people like you want to be treated

Like it is said, what goes around, comes around. People will treat you the way you treat them, so make sure that you can introspect enough to honestly assess how you would want to be treated in a similar situation. Ask yourself these questions the next time you think you may be crossing a line. Think harder about this. And course correct. There is absolutely no shame in calling out when you’re wrong and actively trying to correct it. 

2. Be present

In these times of constant connectivity, this is probably one of the most effective ways to demonstrate thoughtfulness and inspire respect. By giving the team your complete and undivided attention during meetings and conversations, you are telling them that what they say matters to you. In other words, stop checking emails, put away your phone, and be a good listener.

3. Prioritise recognition

Bottom line, people won’t care about you if you don’t care about them. People who feel valued perform at a much higher level. However, they look for proof that they are valued. And this is where appreciation and recognition becomes very important. In the past few weeks, we have had a couple of sessions with our team members in India on how to make recognition stronger in our culture. In these discussions, one interesting aspect that came out is the importance of respect in recognition. This is often overlooked. Listening to our team members, getting to know people or not taking them for granted are all important aspects of respect and recognition that we need to pay closer attention to.

4. Embrace ‘Servant Leadership’

I find the concept of Servant Leadership particularly powerful. You can read more about it on a previous post ( I recently came across a compelling example of it in The Four Keys to Being a Trusted Leader, an article by John Dame published in the Harvard Business Review. A certain visionary CEO inverted his Organisation Chart so that the largest group of people – those dealing directly with customers – were displayed at the top. The C-Suite came right at the bottom. This was the CEO’s way of affirming that the Executive Team was there to support the rest of the organisation, to work for those at the front line. In service leadership, the primary role of leaders isn’t to “win” some abstract race; rather, it is to bolster every single person who is contributing to the organisation’s success. Unsurprisingly, people work better for leaders who work for them in turn.

5. Be okay with not-knowing

Some leaders find it tough to admit it when they don’t know something and pretend to be well-informed instead, thus developing a reputation for “faking” knowledge. It’s far better to be open about the fact that you’re only human and can’t possibly know everything! Ask lots of questions, be willing to listen, and solicit advice from experts. Not only will your honesty be appreciated, it will also lend extra weight to your assertions when you are confident – people will trust that you know what you’re talking about.

6. Create a team code of respect

Start a conversation about respect with your team. Draw upon the Godrej values around respect and talk about what they mean to you, as a group. What does it mean to act respectfully? How can you deal with incidents of disrespect? Together, you can come up with ways to ensure that you respect each other, every day. Plus, simply having a meaningful dialogue about the topic is sure to spark greater self-awareness amongst everyone.

7. Show Tough Love

Giving positive feedback is great, but only when it’s balanced. Don’t say “great job!” when you actually mean “this is terrible work”. This does the individual as well as the organisation a disservice. When necessary, it is important for leaders to be able to give tough, direct feedback and then help the person come up with strategies for improvement. The same goes for making commitments. Don’t make promises you can’t keep otherwise your word will lose all meaning. If tough times lie ahead, be forthright with your team and then explain how you’re going to help them come out on the other side. It is this honesty – not sugar-coated flattery and rose-tinted glasses – that will win you the trust and respect of your team.

8. Be unfailingly polite

This applies to any sort of disagreement, be it with your team members or your fellow leaders. The chance of a positive outcome increases dramatically when you remain respectful towards your challengers – even if they lapse into rudeness. In his article, To Win Over Dissenters (and Everyone Else), Show Some Respect, John P. Kotter explains why:

Showing respect helps you accomplish two goals. First, it helps to assuage your challenger. You quickly and effectively disarm (but don’t discount) his claim with genuine attention and respect, and you may be surprised how much this can help you to win him over…. The second thing respect helps you accomplish is winning your broader audience. Failure to show complete respect — even and especially if you are shown none in return — can make you lose credibility with your audience. It will only lend each counter argument more weight. But being perpetually respectful makes you sympathetic to your audience, and it psychologically helps you win their hearts and minds.

9. Stand up for your team

Nothing chips away at a leader’s reputation more than the feeling that they are willing to throw their team under the bus. You must be able to advocate for the people you lead. This doesn’t mean shielding them when they’ve done something wrong – it means standing up for what you know is right. Leaders who support and fight for their teams – even sticking their own necks out for them – command loyalty and respect.

10. Don’t pass on the problem

If you are struggling with a rude team member, don’t shy away from the issue and simply move them to a different department or location. That doesn’t resolve the problem; it simply passes it along to someone else. Ongoing disrespect calls for an honest, direct conversation – in private, of course. Make it clear to the concerned individual that their behaviour is not in keeping with Godrej values and that something needs to change.

One final note: respect is a two-way street. If you want others to respect you, you have to first respect them. If you want to earn the respect of the organisation, in turn, you have to also commit to giving your best.

Arguably, showing respect is one the toughest of all our values to live up to because there can be so many shades of grey. And it will require us to constantly learn and adapt to become better at. So, do write in with your thoughts. As always, I look forward to your perspectives.


  • Sunita Devrani says:

    Great one. Explains the value really well. Thanks.

  • Bharathi says:

    Dear Sir,

    Perfect post for my current situation. But I have a concern with point number 10. Kindly advise, what am I supposed to do when a lethargic (but not rude) team member does not change his/her behaviour upon my repeated indirect or direct conversations, in public as well as private?


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