Before you show your team members compassion, you must first show them the most basic form of respect: acknowledging them and their perspectives. Simply acknowledging someone and their challenges can make things better even if it cannot make things right.
Many well-intentioned leaders often fall short in this area. It’s not that they don’t want to respect every person in their organization. Rather, most leaders today are burdened with constant meetings, glued to their phones fielding messages, and generally overwhelmed by the sheer number of people they must engage with each day.
Amid such demands, it’s understandable to cut corners in your interactions with others, since opting out of certain interactions isn’t necessarily overtly disrespectful. But healthy leadership requires us to go the extra mile to always acknowledge our team members whenever possible. It’s a way of saying, “I respect you.”
Dr. Patrick Quinlan served as CEO of Ochsner Health System in New Orleans for 11 years. During his tenure as the head of this large healthcare provider, he instituted a policy that became known as the “10-5 Way.” The rule was straightforward. If employees were within 10 feet of another person, they made eye contact and smiled. But if they were within five feet, they said hello.
Did this respectful gesture of acknowledgment require great time and effort? Not at all. It only took building a new organization-wide habit, whose impact on the company was not just noticeable but measurable, too. Quinlan saw civility proliferate throughout the offices, while patient satisfaction scores rose in tandem with new referrals.
The takeaway: You must acknowledge others’ presence before you can acknowledge their importance; second, when you show love to others, they show it right back.
To adopt the “10-5 Way” (or a similar approach) into your organization, start by establishing norms of respectful acknowledgment for everyone to follow. You, the leader, must model these norms first and foremost.
The key to implementing a rule like this, however, is to avoid presenting it as a cumbersome obligation, or as one more line added to employees’ job descriptions. Instead, emphasize the motivation behind the approach: respect. The goal is for every team member to feel acknowledged and that they are being treated with dignity.
As the poet Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”