In a recent survey by Georgetown University of nearly 20,000 employees worldwide, participants listed respect as the most important leadership behavior. And yet, according to a study by Harvard Business Review, half of employees don’t feel their management respects them. Marquette University professor, Dr. Kristie Rogers, states that leaders have an incomplete understanding of what constitutes workplace respect — so even well-meaning efforts to provide a respectful workplace may fall short.”
How should we, as leaders, show respect? Rogers says the first step is realizing employees value and need two distinct types of respect — owed respect, which is provided equally across a group and meets the universal need to feel included, and earned respect, which recognizes individual qualities or behaviors and meets the need to be valued for doing good work. Rogers says the way managers show respect affects how their employees treat one another, their customers, and even other members of the community
Where can we find a real-world example of successful respectful leadership? The answer might surprise you. Nicknamed “Silent Cal” for his quiet, often taciturn nature, Calvin Coolidge was known as a frugal, pro-business conservative who favored tax cuts and limited government spending. What many don’t realize is he was fiercely committed to advancing African American civil rights, and often publicly expressed his respect for these citizens, providing a model for us today.
In his first State of the Union Address on December 6, 1923, Coolidge said, “Numbered among our population are some 12 million colored people. Under our Constitution, their rights are just as sacred as those of any other citizen. It is both a public and a private duty to protect those rights.” This was the first such address to be shared with the nation via radio broadcast, and it made a dramatic statement: We are all part of one whole. It wasn’t a popular sentiment. Coolidge lost every Southern state in the 1924 election and came under fierce criticism for this inclusive mindset. Even so, his position didn’t waver. On July 5, 1926, in a speech to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he said, “About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful...If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final.” Coolidge understood that African Americans could never enjoy true civil liberty until the prevailing divisive mindset was abolished, and he set about dismantling it by publicly respecting this group of people as an integral, and equal, part of our nation’s whole.
But that’s only half the story. Coolidge also understood the importance of recognizing specific contributions of African Americans. At a 1924 commencement speech for Howard University, a historically black college founded in 1867, Coolidge said, “The colored people have repeatedly proved their devotion to the high ideals of our country. The propaganda of prejudice and hatred which sought to keep the colored men from supporting the national cause [of World War I] completely failed.” And, when a white Army Sergeant wrote to him in protest when Republicans nominated a black man as their candidate in New York’s 21st Congressional District, Coolidge responded,
"During the war 500,000 colored men and boys were called up under the draft, not one of whom sought to evade it. They took their places wherever assigned in defense of the nation of which they are just as truly citizens as are any others. The suggestion of denying any measure of their full political rights to such a great group of our population...could not possibly be permitted by one who feels a responsibility for living up to the traditions and maintaining the principles of the Republican Party.”
Through his public and honest praise, Coolidge communicated the African American citizens' innate, inalienable inclusion in the nation’s whole and also applauded their valuable contributions. Coolidge's example speaks to a larger truth: People are worthy of respect. As leaders, showing this respect openly starts with us.
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Calvin Coolidge understood that respectful leaders showed both owed and earned respect. What are some ways we can show respect to the people we lead? How could a respectful workplace lead to better business? What changes would you like to see in your group? Please share your stories and ideas in the comments section, below!