3 Ways to Show Respect for Your People

Posted 05.24.2012

Even if you’re trying not to pay attention to the presidential campaign right now, you might have heard about Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s comments on “Meet the Press” last weekend. When the topic of the negative messages that the Romney and Obama campaigns are both transmitting about the other side was raised, Booker said he found the whole thing “nauseating.” My guess is a lot of Americans (myself included) agree with Booker on that point. The problem for Booker is that he’s a high-profile Democrat and is therefore expected to parrot the incumbent’s line.

For the past week or so, that line has been that when Mitt Romney was running Bain Capital he was personally responsible for the bankruptcy of a number of companies and the jobs that were subsequently lost. At the same time, as Steve Rattner points out in the New York Times, Romney takes credit for the 89,000 jobs at Staples based on the relatively small investment that Bain made years ago when the company employed around a thousand people. He holds Obama responsible for the loss of 100,000 auto industry jobs. Are things really that simple?

Based on what each of them have accomplished in their lives, I have to conclude that the two candidates for president are highly intelligent people. And, yet, they’re both running campaigns that I think disrespect the intelligence of the people they want to lead. They both expect us to buy simplistic, one-sided broadsides against the other guy. It is nauseating.

Perhaps, though, we can find some lessons for leaders who want to show respect for the people they lead. Here are three I can think of:

  • Treat Them Like Grown-Ups. Years ago, I had a boss who insisted that all of her managers give people all the information they needed to make informed decisions for themselves. To do anything less than that was to act as if we, the managers, were the parents and the rest of the employees were children. Leaders need to engage in adult-to-adult conversations.
  • Assume They Can Handle the Truth. One of the great movie lines of all time was in “A Few Good Men” when the Jack Nicholson character snarled, “You can’t handle the truth.” It’s a great movie line but it’s not usually true in real life. People can handle the truth better than the alternative. The truth allows them to make reality-based decisions.
  • Don’t Dumb It Down. Does every argument need to be reduced to good vs. evil or us against them? Is it ever the case that one side is 100% right and the other 100% wrong? I guess those are rhetorical questions. There’s nothing more inauthentic than an intelligent leader making an incredibly simplistic argument. Good leaders don’t dumb it down.

What are your leadership takeaways from the campaign so far?