Dignity & Respect: Why leaders fail to build healthy climates

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    Brady Reed

    This is an article topic for which I’d love to get feedback and stories associated with the topic:

    Unfortunately, for one organization I worked with, despite a director who emphasizes “dignity and respect” his organization doesn’t feel that way to his staff.  He’s not alone. Organizations are failing at building positive cultures because those in charge are not leading, they’re merely enforcing compliance laws, regulations, or statues. Worse still, some are perpetuating distrust while they think they are ‘taking action’ on potential problems.   Over the past 25+ years in and around both Government and military organizations, I’ve consistently read or heard leaders say they want a “culture of dignity and respect.”  The translation is really “thou shalt not commit any of the ‘big 3’ sins (equal opportunity, sexual harassment, or sexual assault) or you will be crucified.”  While certainly such behavior should not be tolerated, enforcing only compliance promotes a fear-based culture.  For example;  I’ve heard countless people in the workforce lament that they don’t enjoy work as much as they’d like because they fear something they might say could be misinterpreted or a seemingly harmless word of humor might resonate offense and thus the speaker has committed a sin for which they must be punished.  Because of this fear – especially among leaders, they keep a certain distance from their employees.  Such impersonal relationships violates the leadership rule of “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  When your people think you don’t really care about them you only increase the potential for disengagement, animosity, passive-aggressive behavior, and the aforementioned risk of your words being seen as offensive.

    So what to do? Build a winning, healthy culture through inspiration and aspiration – not just enforcing compliance.  Engage in a deliberate process of culture development by hosting positive leadership or high-performance workplace seminarstopping there is a big mistake since it will not likely produce the long-term results you deire.  Building a healthy, high-performance culture will require disciplined follow-through along with sincere and humble leadership.  For example, just before a staff meeting begins, spend a few minutes talking about a lesson or principle learned from the siminar.  Ask your team “how have we been doing at (principle or lesson learned)?  Praise someone who has demonstrated the behavior.  Ask if YOUR behavior is or has been congruent with the values expressed in the seminars and give your staff permission to call you on it if you fall short.  It makes you human and shows true humility – a rare and underappreciated character in leaders today.  It shows you care and that you are trying to lead by example.  When that happens, people begin to relax and learn to enjoy their relationships instead of looking for offenses.  You’ll start to find that your organizational performance, capacity, and agility increase as well.  You’ll see your teams working, as Dr. Stephen M.R. Covey says, at the “speed of trust.”

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