Workplace Civility: Common Sense But Not Always Common Practice

Aug 27, 2020

If I only had a dollar for every time a client would tell me, “Just make them more human” or “help them to not be a jerk” when reacting to my questions about how I could help develop their leaders. These pleas have been ongoing for years as we work with our clients to enhance the effectiveness of their leaders. My response has been fairly straightforward: workplace civility requires leaders to be self-aware—and the organization’s culture to embrace it.

Researcher and author Lars Andersson defines workplace civility as “behaviors that help to preserve the norms for mutual respect in the workplace; civility reflects concern for others.” Thomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke, co-founders of the Institute for Civility in Government, assert, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity without degrading someone else’s in the process.” Common sense, right? So why do some of our clients continue to see leaders behaving, albeit occasionally, poorly? The answer is simple: intentionality and accountability.

Civility is a choice. During times of immense stress or pressure, leaders don’t always behave in ways that foster respect. But a leader’s ability to garner credibility and respect is essential to their success. An honest leader who respects others, is willing to be vulnerable, genuinely cares about other people, and demonstrates empathy is a leader others are willing to follow. Even great leaders don’t always get it right. The objective here should not be perfection. Instead, the goal should be to influence leaders’ behaviors so that, by default, they foster respect. This requires intentionality.

One of our gifts of being human is our ability to make intentional choices. In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he reminds us, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” As a survivor of a concentration camp in World War II, Dr. Frankl’s words hold much significance. He reminds us that the most powerful quality we have as humans is how we choose to think and behave in any given situation. These are words of wisdom we can really use now.

Civility also requires mutual accountability. We must hold ourselves and each other accountable for behaving in ways that are mutually beneficial to any given relationship. This is easier to achieve when an organizational culture embraces civility and holds everyone accountable to those expectations. But I still see organizational cultures that are tolerant of toxic behaviors because those behaviors are being demonstrated by senior executives or leaders who generate a lot of revenue. Civility requires engagement from everyone, regardless of role, stature, or productivity.

In response to a question asked during the podcast Legal Speak about how a recent COVID-19 infection has changed him, David Lat, the founder of Above the Law and a former lawyer, replied, “I have a new-found appreciation for life and relationships. I feel grateful.” He described the appreciation he felt after receiving words of encouragement from so many people in his life. “I’ve always been more of a head over heart person,” he said, “but right now, and maybe it’s temporary, that is reversed.”

We don’t know what is to come as we navigate through this pandemic, but one thing is abundantly clear: if we can make a commitment to intentionally treat others with kindness and respect, we can get through this together!
 
This article originally appeared at Loeb Leadership.com.
 
Natalie Loeb is founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership, a certified women-owned business and a Global Training Partner of The Leadership Challenge®. With over 25 years of experience in executive coaching and known as an innovative business leader and strategic partner to her clients, Natalie leads her firm in the creation and realization of its vision: to help build high-trust cultures that inspire employees to change, collaborate, grow, and perform at their best—creating a positive impact on themselves, those around them, and their organizations and communities. She can be reached at natalie@loebleadership.com.
 
David Robert, MBA, is Chief Strategy Officer for Loeb Leadership, leading client engagements around high performance and building high-trust workplace cultures. Former CEO of Great Place to Work (Middle East), his 20 years of experience also includes serving as Director of Change Management with BlueCross and BlueShield. Currently a visiting lecturer at the Center for Leadership, University of Dayton, he can be reached at david@loebleadership.com
 

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