Respect For People - A Leadership Imperative

A. S. Girish, Dean (External Programmes & Placements), Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship, Kochi.

As a teacher of Human Resources and a person with four and a half decades of experience in the field of Human Resources Management, one point I try to drive home is the significance of "Respecting people and accepting the dignity of each individual". Respect is essential for leadership as it fosters trust, teamwork, and a positive atmosphere in the workplace. Of course, a lot of material is available on this subject. Mr. Immanuel Kant, philosopher and social scientist, articulated the Theory of Respect for Persons based on the moral commitment to show respect. Kant’s theory claims that “all persons, regardless of personal qualities or achievements, social position, or moral track-record, are owed respect just because they are persons, that is, beings with rational and autonomous wills” (Respect (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), 2022). The following allegory will illustrate what is a moral duty:

Three young men see an elderly woman needing help to cross the street. Man A decides he will help the woman cross the street because he would feel guilty all day if he did not. Man B chooses to help the woman across the street because he recognises her as his neighbour, and it is obligatory to do so. Man C decides he will help the woman across the street because it is right; he understands he has a moral responsibility to help others in need when he can.

As ordinary human beings, we may find ourselves in categories A, B, and C depending on the situation. We enjoy the altitude of respect when it is based on our moral principles.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India and a renowned scientist, was a visionary leader who embodied Kant's moral philosophy of respect. In 2012, I had the privilege of hosting Kalamji, who inaugurated the Annual National Conference of NIPM, the largest professional body of practicing HR professionals in Kochi, Kerala, India. Mr. Stephen Heaslip from the USA served as a keynote speaker. As the Chairman of the organizing committee, I returned to my seat after delivering the welcome address, awaiting Kalamji's inaugural address following the Presidential address. As I sat down, Kalamji's secretary approached me, expressing Kalamji's interest in knowing how to correctly pronounce the name of Mr. Stephen Heaslip. This simple act of concern demonstrated Kalamji's respectfulness even in minor details. Anybody will feel respected if their name is pronounced correctly. This lesson taught me to think aloud in respecting people in all dimensions.

Let me share another story about Kalamji. During his tenure at ISRO from 1960-1970, Kalamji lived in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. In that neighbourhood, there was a cobbler named Mr. George with whom the young Kalamji forged an unexpected friendship. He used to chit-chat with Mr. George in his shop after his duty. George assisted Kalamji by purchasing a food packet for his supper. Their friendship was very informal yet meaningful. Later, Kalamji left Thiruvananthapuram, moved to DRDO, assumed the role of Space Secretary, and eventually achieved a historic milestone by becoming the President of India. During his first visit to Thiruvananthapuram as President, he made a deliberate effort to reconnect with his old friend Mr. George at Raj Bhavan. This is an exhibition of Kalamji’s genuine ''Respect'' for his friend. George continues to be in Thiruvananthapuram running his old shop, and he cherishes and reminisces about the meeting with Kalamji at Raj Bhavan whenever I meet him.

Both examples illustrate Kalamji's leadership qualities and his commitment to treating individuals with respect and integrity. These are golden lessons we have to learn from our role models. As emerging leaders in the field of management, respect is an important aspect for creating an emotional connection in our transactions. The best way is to show respect and accept the individual's dignity. Social psychologists emphasize the importance of providing psychological safety to each individual where respect is the foundation for the same.

Let us re-emphasise the significance of Respect for people as a critical ingredient for good ''LEADERSHIP''.

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