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Respect Is Earned, Civility Is Expected, But What Do Your Employees Deserve?

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “Treat people like they’re people.”

What would that look like if everyone put Reid’s advice to work? In a three-part series, I’ve reflected on ideas related to this question, thanks to an interview I held with author Sally Helgesen. We had a great conversation that led to the second installment of this series and the conclusion I’m writing today.

Sally and I spoke about her case study at Intel and insightful chats with early hire Ted Jenkins. Jenkins spoke of four powers existing in an organization and how leaders will be highly effective if they can mitigate the fourth power, which is position power. The reason this power is so tricky for workplace cultures is that we often rely on job titles to tell us how to make decisions.

When Sally relayed Jenkins’ decision to balance the power and share the solution-finding workload across all positions—both topline and frontline—I found myself nodding and saying, “Yes, I couldn’t agree with you more.”

In my experience, climbing the corporate ladder shows you just how much everyone matters. It’s often the case that your team knows more about a situation than you do as a leader because it’s not always possible to get involved in the everyday weeds.

When a leader recognizes this fact, it’s a great lesson in vulnerability and an opportunity to show Reid-like appreciation. The reason is not only mission-critical; giving employees a greater sense of their value gives them dignity.

You may have read my posts about the importance of civility and the critical work of authors like Christine Porath. Dignity is altogether something different. Respect can be earned, civility is expected, but everyone deserves dignity.

Dignity is a conveyor of trust

Treating people with dignity shows vulnerability, and we know from Ken Blanchard that without vulnerability, we can’t build trust. When you show another person vulnerability, you’ve created a moment in time when you lift them up and give them an opening to reciprocate. When you offer these “lifts” over time, you form relationships that are based on mutual respect.

Dignity is a neutralizer and a multiplier

Resolving conflict, managing relationships, and cultivating problem solvers in your company becomes much easier if everyone is treated with the dignity they deserve. Dignity becomes the multiplier everyone perceives when they’re included in the conversation no matter their job title. Conversations where dignity exists demonstrate better listening, more ideation, and improved outcomes.

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Dignity is a competitive advantage

Companies can borrow ideas, repeat strategies, and adopt frameworks, but no business can mimic the personal connections created in service of dignity. Jenkins illustrated how letting everyone know they mattered literally impacted the culture and, ultimately, the bottom line at Intel. As a concept, dignity is repeatable. In practice, it’s proprietary. Every culture is unique.

Leaders in every profession have an opportunity to make an enormous impact on their culture if they’re willing to be honest about the role everyone plays in the success of an organization. Much like Reid is beloved by his team for the trust he builds and the value he places on every single player, winning leaders today have an obligation to make the employee experience a priority. It’s always been a competitive advantage on the field, and it is fast becoming a difference maker in today’s changing workplace.

Want to read more about dignity in two different cultures? Check out the first and second installment in this series.

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