A friend of mine runs a $200 million business, but he's far from "corporate."
He never worked for a big company, instead building his business from the ground up. Time and experience haven't dulled his sharp edges; he's loud, aggressive, and often combative.
He's the quintessential sales and operations guy who hates getting involved in HR issues.
Recently a female employee said he had spoken extremely inappropriately to a group she was part of.
He called me to complain. "I don't get it," he said. "It's like they don't want me to be myself anymore."
"You're right," I said. "They don't want you to be 'yourself.' You can be yourself with me. You can be yourself with your friends. But you don't have..."
He interrupted. "Oh yeah," he said, "like you've always been a saint."
"I definitely haven't," I said. "I've said stupid stuff. I've made stupid jokes. I don't always think before I speak. But neither of us have a right to be 'ourselves.' That's not how it works. That's not how it ever should have worked."
He argued. He whined. He vented. He sees not being able to be himself as a problem, which of course is the problem.
But there's also a simple solution -- for him, for me, for anyone who is unsure about how to behave.
All we have to do is treat people the way they deserve to be treated.
Sound too simple? It's not. For example, when you pass someone in the hallway, say hi. Or smile and nod. And always speak when spoken to.
When you ask for something, say please. Then say thank you. Above all, express appreciation for achievement, not appearance.
Shake hands. But never hug. Never pat shoulders. (And for gosh sakes never give back rubs.)
Never use sexual slang unless you know -- know -- that other people don't mind. How will you know people won't mind? If you're in a position of authority, you probably won't. So just don't.
Never make fun of other people; not only is it mean, it also creates a culture of gossip that causes others to lose respect for their co-workers. Anything that diminishes the dignity or respect of any employee should never be tolerated, especially by you.
On the other hand, feel free to make fun of yourself. Showing vulnerability creates a culture where people feel safe enough to tell each other the truth, especially to you.
Bottom line? Treat your female employees the same way you would want your daughter to be treated. Treat your male employees like you would want your son to be treated.
And if you find yourself wanting more from the women or men you work with than teamwork, effort, creativity, and results -- especially if they occupy a rung lower than yours on the company ladder -- stop and have a think.
Treating people with respect and dignity is not just the best way to build a great culture and a great company. In fact, treating people with respect and dignity is not just the right thing to do.
It's the only thing to do.
And if we all just did that... think how much better things would be.