My work has brought me up close to leaders of all kinds. They all report the same major leadership challenge: knowing what to do in charged, emotional situations. Despite collecting degrees and intellectual capital, they rarely feel confident when facing people who are outraged, who think they are being treated unfairly and whose unacknowledged grievances have made them irate fighters. They don’t know what to do when facing people who have experienced repeated violations of their dignity.
While I witnessed the powerful impact that a violation of dignity created, I also saw how ill-equipped most future leaders were in handling these emotional upheavals. Their default reaction was to use their authority and position power to control the situation, often leaving the aggrieved people angrier, more resentful and less willing to extend themselves in their jobs or roles. Their dignity violations remained unaddressed, contaminating the work environment.
People in leadership positions need to be educated in all matters related to dignity, both the human vulnerability to being violated and the remarkable effect it has on people when they feel seen, heard, understood and acknowledged as worthy. The emotional impact of treating someone well and honoring the person’s dignity has benefits that are incalculable everywhere people cluster — in families, communities, workplaces, churches and nations. It’s the easiest and fastest way to bring out the best in people. The opposite is equally true: Treat people as if they don’t matter, and watch how fast a destructive, if not violent, emotional storm erupts.
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