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Want to Be a Great Leader?

Show People Kindness, Dignity and Respect

Warwick Fairfax

July 19, 2021

As we rise in organizations and become more successful and as our businesses grow, life gets more hectic and more demanding.  We travel more, are away from home more, the pressure intensifies.  Our bosses or our boards seem more demanding.  The shareholders expect and demand continuous quarterly earnings increases.  But something else happens, too.  Perhaps imperceptibly, we begin to change.

We might not notice it, but others — our family and friends — certainly notice it.  Stress and pressure can make us short with people, impatient.  We don’t have time to be nice, to chit chat, to ask about our coworkers’ or our employees’ families.  The job has to get done now.  Our job is on the line.  Either our team needs to get with the program, or we will find others  who will.  After all, our team should be grateful to have the jobs they do.  There are plenty of people who would be willing to fill their places.

Sometimes when we see people who don’t seem to be nice, who seem to be jerks, who seem to treat people poorly, it is easy to judge.  How could those people be so mean and unkind? But what if “those people” are us?  Most of us tend to think of ourselves as a “good person.”  We would never hurt someone, at least not intentionally.  Is it possible that the stress we feel from life, from the COVID pandemic this last year and a half or from our jobs could be changing us?  Is it possible the unkind jerk we see in others could actually be us?  Let’s not be so sure that that might not be true.

So how do we avoid becoming an unkind jerk? Or, if we are somewhere on the road to becoming one, what do we do?

1. Get rooted in your values.

Whether they come from a faith tradition, a philosophical tradition or somewhere else, ask yourself what you believe in.  You might find treating people with dignity, respect and kindness are among your highest values.

2. Take an inventory.

Assess how well you are doing at living according to the values and beliefs you hold most dear.  Ask friends and family, even co-workers, how you are treating other people.  They might say you mean well, but you are under such stress, that you might not be at your best self.  You should know what this could mean.  Perhaps you are being more unkind and impatient with family, friends, and coworkers than you would like.

3. Consider your legacy.

Ask yourself how you want your family, friends and coworkers to remember you.  As the CEO who had 20 continuous quarterly earnings increases?  The boss who achieved all their goals and got many promotions?  Someone who had made it and has the nice house, the boat, the cars.  Perhaps there is more to life than this.

4. Seek significance.

Success is illusory and can be temporary.  You will not be CEO forever, or even the boss of your group forever.  At some point you will retire or be replaced by someone else, who may indeed be better than you and willing to work harder than you.  Is your self-esteem wrapped up too much in how you perform in your job?  Success is fine, but seeking your significance in your success is dangerous.  Seeking your significance in something more lasting is a safer and more prudent course.

5. Serve others and serve a higher purpose.

Significance  defined as serving others and a higher purpose changes our perspective.  How we treat people on the journey matters.  The U.S. Army has a motto, “Mission first, people always.”  What this means more generally is that we have to not only succeed at our job, but we have to care for people and treat them with kindness and respect.  It is a both/and.  We can never justify treating people poorly with the rationale that our job is so demanding that is just what happens.

6. Apologize.

That’s right, when there are times we might come across as an unkind jerk, we need to apologize.  That’s right, when not if.  All of us when we are under pressure, have times when we are not at our best.  We say a harsh word, we take the pressure we feel we are under out on other people.  That is normal.  That is human.  And… we are all human.  Apologizing is not easy.  We need to realize  we are not perfect and that apologizing does not mean we are an awful human.  Just that we are human.

7. Treating people with kindness, dignity and respect can enhance success.

How can that be?  Think about it.  Would you rather work for a boss who was kind, respectful and treated you with dignity? Or for an unkind jerk?  Any sane, rational person would want to work for the first kind of boss.  Which of those two bosses would the best and the brightest, the most motivated want to work for?  Remember those employees who are the best and the brightest have options.  If you treat them poorly they will leave.

Treating people with kindness, dignity and respect is the right thing to do.  It is also the smart thing to do.  Treating people well will not hold you back; it actually might propel you forward.  It is possible to be driven, to be successful and to be kind to those around you.  It requires discipline, it requires you to be centered on your values, and it requires you to apologize when you mess up.  Because after all… we are all human.


  • How well are you treating the people around you, including your friends and family?
  • How well do others around you think you are treating them?
  • What one thing will you do this week to treat those around you with kindness, dignity and respect?
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