Respect is the KeyI’ve not encountered a leader that wasn’t interested in improving their team (or department or company)’s performance. And it’s rare that I encounter a leader that doesn’t want team members to be engaged and inspired at work.

What is interesting is that most leaders spend much of their time and energy trying to boost performance and very little time and energy on the quality of their workplace environment. Yet their team culture drives everything that happens in their organization, good or bad.

If your work environment doesn’t demonstrate trust, respect, and dignity to every player, every interaction, every day, performance drops, service quality drops, and engagement drops.

Leaders need to shake up their routines and pay greater attention to the health and quality of their team culture. What should they do differently? If you’ve been reading this blog or my books, you know I’ve got a long list of behaviors that I recommend that leaders embrace.

Maybe a long list isn’t needed! A recent HBR study on leader behaviors found what may be the single most important leader behavior – demonstrating respect.

In a study of nearly 20,000 employees around the globe, no other leader behavior had a bigger effect on employee well-being and health (56% benefit), trust and safety (1.72 times better), enjoyment with their jobs (89% better), greater performance focus (92% benefit), meaning and significance (1.26 times greater), and engagement (55% improvement).

Those are impressive gains in critically important areas. The challenge is that 54% of employees report that their leaders do not regularly respect them. This represents a huge opportunity for leaders.

I know what leaders are thinking about now: “OK, tell me what I need to do to demonstrate respect to my players!” There’s no single “right” way to demonstrate respect! Respect means different things to different people.

To properly demonstrate respect, leaders must connect with the unique individuals on their team – not “team leaders” or “team members.” Some players may want a few minutes of face time to share an idea they have for boosting efficiency. Other players want a look in the eye, a kind smile, and a handshake. One player might appreciate being called out in a team meeting for a contribution – another on the same team with a similar contribution might be more embarrassed at being called out in a meeting!

Demonstrating genuine respect takes time. It requires personalization. It requires a servant heart. Without those things, efforts will look stilted and forced, not genuine and heartfelt.

I won’t stray from my “long list” of recommendations for leaders that wish to create workplace inspiration and performance. Those practices work! I will, though, happily recommend starting with – and continuing with – leaders demonstrating respect to their team leaders and team members.

How do (or did) your great bosses show respect to players in your team or department? What was the impact on you when he or she showed you respect? Share your comments, suggestions, and insights in the comments section below.

How healthy is your team or company’s culture? Don’t guess – get the data with my online Culture Effectiveness Assessment.

Want hands-on guidance for building a safe, inspiring workplace? Join me in Denver for my Culture Leadership Roundtable. This one-morning-a-month series starts in March 2015 and ends in September.

Photo © airdone – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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Reader Interactions


  1. John Thurlbeck says

    Love this post Chris! The HBR study is spot on as far as I’m concerned. The core element is also just as you describe it in my personal experience – treating people as unique and with respect. I believe in and practice that approach as people like to feel valued … and when they do, they pay that back, often immeasurably.

    I also loved your examples of how you might do this. One practice I appreciated greatly in my early career was a training manager who always, without fail, sent a personal note card, usually with a colorful image on the reverse side, thanking me for delivering particular training to staff within our service. Whilst it was part of my everyday job, the card resonated so strongly with me as her approach was always so genuine, respectful and caring.

    Interestingly, it is a practice I never really adopted myself, as I prefer more direct, face-to-face engagement. I do however still remember it vividly. One final thought. I am also a massive believer in random acts of kindness, not just professionally! I have seen some fabulous reactions from people who you would have thought I just gave them a million dollars!

    We know from much research that the human condition is generally fragile, volatile and subject to great change, often at the slightest provocation. That you can do something, however small, to reinforce positivity is not to be avoided!

    Kind regards


    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Great examples, John! Those vivid memories are of you feeling sincerely valued. Boy, do we need more of that in our communities and workplaces today.

      And, you’re spot on: we can choose to show respect to others daily. It’s not hard. It’s not expensive. And it’s immensely powerful.

      Thanks for your insights, my friend!



      • John Thurlbeck says

        You’re very welcome Chris! I couldn’t agree more with regard to our communities and workplaces! I also love your posts because they are triggering some fabulous memories from a career strewn with great learning, too little reflected upon and shared! I really appreciate that, as they are going into my archive for my other book plan!



          • Mary Jo Asmus says

            Chris, this is a great post. Thanks for finding and sharing the stats on respect – I’ve often thought it was very important, but the numbers don’t lie! After all of my years in business and coaching, I haven’t wavered in the thought that listening to others – truly listening, not pretend listening – is one of the most powerful ways (maybe the #1 way) a leader can show respect.

          • S. Chris Edmonds says

            Thanks so much, Mary Jo! I love finding these studies that validate what we know – in our gut – is true. Everything starts with relationships –



  2. Robert Drescher says

    Hi Chris
    Yes there are many things leaders can and should do, but Respect for me is number one. Not only does it help within your organization, but building it inside the organization results in it showing up in external relationships as well. Respect can shift your shareholders from the short-term money grabbers to the long-term growth owners, it also is key to building any level of brand or customer loyalty, and loyalty has a huge effect on how costly it is to make a sale.
    Toxic internal cultures are the single biggest cause of the current lack of brand loyalty most companies experience today. Of the few companies I know with solid brand loyalty, most are companies that start with healthy internal relationships. I know several Honda owners that had their cars recently recalled, all of them still think Honda is great, even though they made a mistake (they are run by humans after all). Key was they acted in a respectful fashion by apologizing and dealing with the issue quickly in the best interest of their customers. They are one of the few companies whose goals include a lifetime relationships with their customers, communities, and other stakeholders, and achieving those requires a great deal of mutual respect, which will not happen if the organization is not internally built upon mutual respect.

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your comments, Robert!

      Respect is a powerful driver of relationships. Demonstrated respect builds relationships while disrespect erodes them.

      We’re loyal Honda customers (despite this week’s announced fines ). No one is perfect – but respectful discussion and treatment goes a long way in creating mutual trust.



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