If you want to be respected, you must respect yourself.
– Spanish Proverb
Respect for people is one of the two pillars of Lean. However, “people” doesn’t just mean the people that report to you, but everyone else in your organization, including your team, your boss, your customers, your suppliers, your community, and yourself. The “respect for people” concept from Toyota is more accurately translated as “respect for humanity.”
To respect people, you must take into account that there is a brain attached to each pair of hands in your company. In addition to the cost of the pair of hands that is represented on traditional financial statements, those brains hold tremendous value. As a leader, your job is to figure out what environment, both physical and organizational, is necessary to optimize and leverage that value. You increase the value by soliciting and using people’s ideas, creativity, experience, and knowledge.
When dealing with people, don’t forget that respect can also mean being up-front with them, in an appropriate manner, giving them areas for improvement, or even letting the person know he or she is not the right fit for a position. Remember to be respectful in how you give such feedback, however. One of my early bosses had a favorite saying: “Are you incapable, or just incompetent?” When he offered me that choice, I didn’t know what to say. But I did know I wouldn’t grow in such an environment, so I soon left to join a different company on the other side of the country. (The man treated everyone, high performers and otherwise, with such disdain, and wondered why his group had such high—and expensive—turnover.)
We must also remember to treat people with dignity. A couple years ago, I read an article on the power of calling people by their names. Using someone’s name creates a connection that can be very powerful. Instead of yelling “hey you!” to someone, learn their name and use it to address them. When you write emails, greet them before launching into the subject. Do the same when talking in person and on the phone. Great leaders are able to connect with their workers by taking a little time to acknowledge them first, before getting down to business.