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What Does Dignity Have to Do With Leadership? post image

In studies of what employees want from an organization, being treated with dignity and respect always ranks higher than money.  What does this really mean? If dignity is so important, leaders better understand it.

The word dignity is one of those that I’m never quite sure of it’s definition but know how it feels when my own takes a hit.  The dictionary definition of dignity is the state or quality of being worthy of honor and having value.  The worthiness of honor and value that this definition speaks of is not a result of great achievement or a famous name but rather of simply being a resident of this earth.  It’s an inherent worth that every single person has the moment they were conceived.

Cultures around the globe uphold this dignity with phrases and words like “tashi delay” (I honor the greatness in you) and namaste (I bow to the divine in you).

If dignity is about being worthy of honor and respect, what role does dignity play in leadership? In leadership where power, authority and hierarchy are sacrosanct, dignity has little to no role unless it is convenient, ordered through compliance to a rule or extended with hopes that some good thing will be done in return.

The challenge to lead while preserving dignity doesn’t end there.  In the often heated world of organizational life, even the most gifted and well-intentioned leaders can create an undignified workplace.

The positive effect on people when they feel seen, heard, understood, and acknowledged as valuable and worthy of respect regardless of circumstance is undeniable.  Think for a moment of a environment where you felt you were valued and honored as a person before any discussion of performance, contribution or results.  What was the impact on you?  How did you respond?

Use these eleven examples of dignity in action to create your own road map for bringing dignity to your leadership.

Dignity in leadership is…

  1. When a conversation about a mistake or performance problem doesn’t turn into an emotional event and the person is allowed to keep their own dignity
  2. Really listening to what someone else has to say and taking it into consideration
  3. Not discussing with a peer an issue with another person that doesn’t impact your peer in any way
  4. Recognizing even the smallest contribution
  5. Considering the impact on ALL parties when setting a direction or making a decision and avoiding the “lesser of the evils” route
  6. Stopping your own negative self-talk (i.e. “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m bound to fail” etc…)
  7. Setting up a team member for success by employing their strengths
  8. Welcoming diverse perspectives on an issue
  9. Not letting stereotypes, prejudice or any type of bias guide decisions
  10. Engaging with and serving a person regardless of their level and when they have nothing to give in return
  11. Supporting a person you just fired to find their next step

Remember that dignity in action starts with the fundamental belief that every person is worthy of honor and has value.  This is the hardest step.  A servant leader spends time grounding themselves in this truth and is guided by it in their actions.

Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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