The Leadership Behavior That’s Most Important to Employees


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Christine Porath for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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For the last 20 years, I’ve studied the costs of incivility, as well as the benefits of civility. Across the board, I’ve found that civility pays. It enhances your influence and performance — and is positively associated with being perceived as a leader.

Being respectful doesn’t just benefit you, though; it benefits everyone around you. In a study of nearly 20,000 employees around the world(conducted with HBR), I found that when it comes to garnering commitment and engagement from employees, there’s one thing that leaders need to demonstrate: respect. No other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the outcomes we measured. Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback — or even opportunities for learning, growth, and development. However, even when leaders know that showing respect is critical, many struggle to demonstrate it. If you’re one of those leaders, consider the following steps:

If you don’t feel comfortable enlisting the feedback of your entire team, you can also ask a trusted direct report to gather feedback within the organization about whether you (the leader) consistently demonstrate civility; and what situations may trigger uncivil behavior.

Work with a coach. Coaches can uncover potential weaknesses through surveying and interviewing those with whom you work, and may shadow you at meetings and events to pick up on subtleties including non-verbal behavior. A skilled coach may unearth some of the underlying assumptions, experiences, and personal qualities that make one prone to uncivil behavior.

Ask, specifically, how you can improve. Once you have clarity on which behaviors you want to improve (first), gather information from others about how best to go about this. This “feedforward” method, originated by author Marshall Goldsmith, is a terrific way to gather specific ideas for improving your behavior.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Christine Porath is an associate professor of management at Georgetown University, the author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace (Grand Central Publishing, forthcoming), and a coauthor of The Cost of Bad Behavior (Portfolio, 2009).

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