Respect Begets Respect



Respect in organizations is essential because it demonstrates that one values another as an employee who brings something special to their work and to their team. A respected employee is more engaged, productive and innovative, and as a result an organization that takes respect seriously will be high performing.  Employees will show up, be responsible and accountable and demonstrate as much respect for the organization as it demonstrates for them: respect begets respect.  

There are numerous articles (search “respect in the workplace”) that provide excellent tips for people to demonstrate greater levels of respect for others around them.  These add value but do not account for the fact that respect and civility are declining in the workplace (Weber Shandwick, 2011).  In a survey of 1000 American adults, 55% believe respect and civility will get worse in the next few years, and over 43% are already experiencing it.  Finally, nearly 66% believe that leaders are responsible for this deterioration (Doug Dickerson; International Business Times 3/29/17).

The ultimate solution to growing disrespect in organizations is systemic.  Tips for individual behaviors for all employees are great but if systemic issues are not addressed, all of the small behavioral changes will not make a big enough difference.  In most cases there is no intent to increase the level of disrespect in organizations.  It is a systemic problem that is largely associated with the pace of change, the increasing complexity of many of our organizations, and the quality of leaders, particularly those who are responsible for “the system”. If respect is missing in your organization it is not fair to simply blame leaders, but the challenge of systemic improvement will inevitably land on the shoulders of leaders and they must be prepared for this work.  

Systemic problems are hard to unravel so rather than looking back, the premise of this blog is that there are three systemic ways leaders can bring respect back to the workplace.  None of these are easy but one can address these one by one or together, and they will have an impact.

  1. Take a serious look at the pace of work, the hours people are putting in to complete their work, the extent to which people are duplicating effort (three people working on the same issue; uncoordinated/poorly led enterprise initiatives), engagement survey results associated with work-life balance, your own ability to sleep at night, and anything else that helps you define whether or not it feels like you are working in an environment in which the "ocean is boiling."  The unintentional consequences of this phenomenon directly influence the level of respect in an organization.  While people are doing everything possible to keep up with their workload, their ability to demonstrate respect for others is diminished.  They miss, cancel, come late, or try to multitask in meetings; they forget to communicate small things or do not communicate at all; they break promises and miss deadlines; they exclude people who could help because it is faster to do it themselves; and they run down the halls missing opportunities to simply acknowledge others. In large organizations where the ocean is boiling there are probably a thousand unintentional and simple examples of disrespect a day.  If this is the case, disrespect has become pervasive and is defining the culture.  There is no simple solution to this trend but you can start with better prioritization of work; integration of projects and initiatives; finding balance between headcount and workload; lead with greater clarity and consistency; or at a minimum be very conscious about the culture and learn to behave in ways that demonstrate your respect for others.
  2. Work extremely hard to develop the emotional intelligence of leaders., particularly those that influence the organization at large.  I know many very good people who are in leadership positions, but have little or no understanding of the impact their actions have on others, and this impact is often experienced as disrespect.  One could focus on the breakdowns in their path to leadership positions but for this purpose put emphasis and resources toward the future; developing the emotional intelligence of leaders willing to commit to improvement. Terrific energy is spent on creating organization cultures in which employees choose to be engaged; responsible, accountable, and loyal.  It only takes a couple of emotionally unintelligent leaders in important positions to derail tremendous progress made by others.
  3. Finally, there are leaders in organizations who are simply not interested in the principles of leadership that engage the workforce and lead to high performance.  In fact, there are leaders with significant system wide influence who understand the negative impact they are having on others, but feel good about the discomfort they create and believe it is needed to achieve the organization's goals. When these individuals make this choice in organizations that are explicit about the development of an engaging and respectful culture, they need to go.  They are doing more harm than good and getting in the way of a culture in which people are key to the achievement of an organizations results.   

It has been stated and proven repeatedly that the culture of organizations is more important than their strategies (John Kotter). Further, there is sufficient evidence that engaged workforces drive better results.  Disrespectful leaders and behaviors cannot coexist in organizations that espouse a strong employee value proposition. If culture is more important than strategy, then developing and employing leaders who can engender respect in organizations is more important than the subject matter expertise, years of experience, or credentials they bring to the job.

With Grace


Last week my family and I had to let go of Gracie, our 8.5-year-old golden retriever.  Her life was short but full. What was so special about Gracie was that she gave as much or more than she received.  We have had many wonderful dogs, each with great personalities, but there was something very special about Gracie that touched all of us, and hundreds (no exaggeration) of other people and animals. In many ways, Gracie demonstrated for all of us, a set of behaviors that reflect her name; grace.

Grace infers charm, kindness, refinement, decency, honor, mercy – all words that speak to Gracie’s character and words we generally want to experience in the people who surround us, including people who lead us.  Grace however is not a word commonly used in discussions about leadership.  In the many competency models that I have developed, never has it arisen as a competency or trait of leaders, and yet I think that it might be one of the most important characteristics for leaders to develop and exhibit.

For the last 4 years Gracie was an urban dog living with my wife and I in the inner city of Cincinnati, an area that is only recently being developed.  Our neighborhood has retained a high level of diversity among its residents and visitors, making it a dynamic and at times unpredictable community.  It is in this setting that Gracie’s character really stood out.  Her daily walks presented opportunities for her to make connections with people and other dogs.  She genuinely loved engaging with others, and naturally enjoyed attention she received in return.  Gracie seemed to have a purpose:.  She was completely approachable to children who were afraid or lacked experience with dogs; she brought a smile and a few moments of joy to a homeless person who is often ignored; she provided young adults enjoying the night out with a reminder of their family dogs who they rarely get to see; she calmed other dogs through her willingness to take whatever they dished out; she provided my wife with a walking companion even though her walks were often interrupted by people who wanted a moment of Grace; and she was my companion on walks and made my experience of our community a joy.

Gracie made our community a better place by always being approachable to anyone; by always smiling and saying hello in her special way; by giving as much or more than she received; by enabling conversations among people at every corner; and by being extraordinarily patient with everyone. Consider these attributes for a moment and the extent to which you exhibit these behaviors as a leader or experience them in your leader.

  • Approachable and safe
  • Exhibiting joy and happiness
  • Giving more than getting
  • Enabling conversations by bringing people (and pets) together
  • Being patient, serene, and respectful

Taken independently or together, the presence of these characteristics can create an environment in which people are:

  • More transparent and open with their ideas and opinions
  • Focused more on what is right than on what is wrong
  • Confident and secure in their position
  • Feeling supported rather than controlled
  • In the middle of important conversations where they add value

If you are a leader who chooses to have an organization or community culture in which people are engaged and committed, then make “grace” a part of your life and enjoy the community that will emerge.   

In our neighborhood, it is kind of a joke that we all know the names of the dogs but rarely know the names of their owners.  A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to dinner at a local restaurant. While waiting for a table I had a short conversation with the hostess.  In the middle of the conversation she suddenly asked me if I was “Gracie’s Dad”. I proudly said yes and she told me she knew Gracie from Liberty’s, a dog friendly bar we walk past regularly. If the door is open at Liberty’s, Gracie usually strides right in and at the right time of day, when Gracie enters, everybody knows her name. 

I am personally motivated by Gracie to ensure that I lead with grace and that I help others do the same. 

Gracie, you will be missed by many but you will never be forgotten.

The Management of Disruptive Change

When writing, I sometimes use the “synonyms” tool in Word to find the right words.  Based on the environment in which we are living these days I used this tool to find synonyms for the word “disruption” and synonyms for the synonyms of disruption (see table below). This exercise illustrated that there is no single constructive or optimistic synonym for the word “disruption” and it caused me to wonder how “disruption” has become an acceptable norm for how we behave, what we strive to do, how we change organizations, countries and governments? 

Synonyms to Disruption        Synonyms of Synonyms

·       Disturbance                        trouble, uproar, commotion, riot, fracas

·       Commotion                         turmoil, upheaval, hullaballoo

·       Trouble                               worry, distress, anxiety, misfortune, woe        

·       Interruption                         break, stoppage, interlude

·       Distraction                          interference, diversion

·       Disorder                              malady, condition, chaos, sickness, ailment

If language is a fundamental part of a culture then there is a need to be smart about the words we choose. The word disruption has become part of our cultural language, and the act of disruption has become an acceptable norm that leads at times to disruption for “disruption’s sake” without clarity about the outcome one is trying to achieve or the effective management of changes that emerge. In an interview with the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review, Clay Christensen, a leader in the theory and practice of disruptive innovation, said, “I never thought … that the word disruption has so many connotations in the English language, that people would then flexibly take an idea, twist it, and use it to justify whatever they wanted to do in the first place”  (in a 2014 discussion "Surrounding His Theory of Disruptive Innovation,” interviewed by Adi Ignatius, June 27, 2014, )

My premise is that disruption, despite the typical use of the word, can be a good thing if serious consideration is given to its consequences - particularly those that influence or challenge cultural norms and practices and have the potential of having a negative influence on people and the connections between them. Treat disruption as a “process and not an event” (Christensen) and one can increase the likelihood of achieving positive outcomes that matter.  Consider a few well known examples of disruption that have had and continue to have some positive impact but have also had real unexpected and negative effects:

  • Facebook was designed to broaden and increase the frequency of communication and the development and/or sustainability of relationships but in our current political environment it has become to tool for reinforcing individual positions and is getting in the way of relationships and the extent to which people engage in the discussion of differences. 
  • Amazon increased the accessibility of goods to people via the internet but this is leading to a dramatic reduction in retail jobs. 
  • The Arab Spring, supported by social media, took on a life of its own and influenced several Middle Eastern countries and the world, but did it help any individual country or people achieve their intended results?
  • Does the disruptive act of calling the news media “fake” really help or is there a better way to manage the problems that have evolved in the media? 

The question is not just whether these outcomes are good or bad but whether enough attention is given to the process, or the management of change.  This is an age-old problem for leaders in organizations and communities; call it disruption, a new organizational “fad”, redesigning an organization, the need to get control of costs, or implementing new systems.  The question is whether or not our leaders are giving enough attention to the process of change and the influence of the change on culture and the people who are sustained and sustain the culture?  If, as it has been proven time and again, culture is more important than strategy, then these are very important questions that cannot be ignored. 

There is no doubt in my mind that a better word might have positively influenced the intent behind a theory of disruption but the real issue is not what we call the type of change but that we respect its intended and unintended consequences and thoughtfully manage its cultural, social and human impact.

Introducing the Barry Morris Consulting Group

It is with great pleasure that I announce the formation of the Barry Morris Consulting Group.  BMCG will draw on extensive operational, executive, and consulting experience to help clients develop their full potential as leaders, build team and organization capability, and achieve sustainable results through people; their most important assets.  We deliver leadership, team and organization development strategies to a diverse group of clients/industries including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, financial services, not for profit social service organizations and communities. 

BMCG designs development processes and structures that lead to desired and sustainable results.  It is committed to building an organization's capability to achieve strategic results, manage change, execute plans, create sustainable high-performance environments, and effectively manage critical decisions and activities that accelerate the achievement of desired results.

At BMCG, Barry Morris and his associates are committed to the following:

  • Thinking and acting strategically
  • Focusing on possibilities
  • Achieving sustainable results through people; leveraging their gifts
  • Meeting the leader and client organization where it is and facilitating the management of change and development
  • Providing customized solutions that are equal to the challenge
  • Telling the truth and delighting in the discussion and creativity that follow
  • Collecting and utilizing data to enhance learning and build commitment to and ownership of the solutions chosen; action research
  • Leaving employees feeling that the work has been done with them rather than to them
  • Focusing on possibilities