Leadership Today: Behaviour Matters — Strategy Isn’t Enough

Many leaders are frustrated by the failed implementation of respectful workplace policies in their organisations and the perceived resistance to change. Despite their best efforts to eliminate conflict and encourage respect, their strategies have had little impact. This is borne out by a survey of 8000 managers and employees conducted by ProActive which found that despite being aware of their organisation’s policies, 58% per cent of respondents did not know what to do when they were treated disrespectfully.

Why a Respectful Workplace Is Important

When there is a lack of respect in a workplace, everyone suffers. High levels of stress and conflict impact substantially on productivity. Staff health and safety are compromised, and absenteeism is a real problem.

Harassment and bullying also thrive when there are no clear guidelines for behaviour. In such an environment employers are vulnerable to sabotage and litigation.

Leaders who don’t know how to address these problems typically don’t understand what is causing them. Because they lack the knowledge and tools to deal effectively with incivility and conflict, they invest in strategies that achieve very little and don’t bring about sustained behaviour change.

So what are these leaders missing?

What these leaders have failed to recognise is that behaviour is every bit as important as strategy when it comes to creating a respectful workplace. Employees need to witness an organisation’s values in action before they will adapt their own behaviour.

Culture is created by behaviour, not strategy.

Leading by Example

It is vital for leaders to set an example for staff by ensuring that their actions match their words. This means treating all people with respect, and behaving with integrity in business dealings.

An ineffective leader has the potential to not only infect the company culture but significantly damage an organisation’s reputation. This is strikingly demonstrated in Uber’s troubles which many blame on the ‘bro culture’ fostered by then CEO Travis Kalanick. Uber’s disregard for regulations when introducing self-driving cars in San Francisco, and its internal problems with sexism and harassment, have taken a heavy toll on the company.

To retain the goodwill of internal and external stakeholders, leaders need to embody respect and honesty. This sounds daunting, but even small gestures count, and every conversation provides an opportunity to demonstrate leadership.

In a healthy environment fostered by good leadership, there is zero tolerance for bullying and harassment.

A respectful workplace is easy to identify because employees are cooperative and productive. They work well in teams, help each other out, and resolve interpersonal problems directly and quickly. In other words, people talk to each other instead of about each other.