By Linda Fisher Thornton
We’ve seen selective respect too often. Beyond harming the people who are disrespected, it also destroys trust, and leads to chaotic environments and fear-based cultures. Even though we’ve all seen selective respect in action, we may not have had the vocabulary to describe why it’s wrong (beyond calling it mean or inappropriate). This week I’m digging in to those details.
I define “selective respect” as doling out respect only under certain circumstances. It is not an ethical leadership behavior since it applies the ethical value of respect conditionally and not universally.
Examples of Selective Respect in Action:
- Teachers picking on certain students while encouraging others.
- “Cool” kids teasing less popular kids while being chummy with their friends.
- Employees repeating ethnic jokes or otherwise demeaning certain groups of people.
- Public leaders treating people in their groups (political, racial, religious, gender, etc.) kindly while alienating and attacking others.
The times when respect is applied may be predictable (certain people or groups are predictably respected or not respected) or unpredictable (who is treated respectfully varies from moment to moment).
Important Ethical Principles Selective Respect Violates:
- Respect for Others (the ethical principle is not respect for certain others, it is respect for all others)
- Respect for Differences (this requires moving beyond the “like me” bias)
- Trustworthiness (only some people can trust you to treat them well)
- Moral Awareness (shows a lack of awareness that respect is a minimum standard for ethical leadership and must be universally applied)
- Ethical Competence (selective respect is a sign of failure to stay ethically competent)
- Ethical Thinking (believing that some people are “not worthy” of respect is unethical thinking)
- Modeling Expected Behavior (selective respect shows others the route to an unethical path, multiplying the error and the harm it generates)
Are you tired of people talking about toxic leadership behaviors as different “styles” or different approaches to leadership, without saying what really needed to be said? When you see leaders using selective respect, call it what it is – unethical leadership.
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©2019 Leading in Context LLC
In the post comments, one reader mentioned the risks of “calling out” an ethical leader in a toxic culture. If you work in a toxic culture, read Taking on a Workplace Bully to assess the risks before you call out unethical leadership.
For More on Unethical Leadership: Unethical Thinking Leads to Unethical Leadership