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Habits of an agile servant leader – Habit 4 (Part 2): Respect

Following our last blogpost on Humility, we will investigate Respect– another significant quality of the fourth habit. In this article, we will discuss the importance of Respect in work environments in general and Agile in particular, expose some behaviors that show disrespect at work, as well as the toll it takes on organizations for not conducting Respect.

OCTOBER 10, 2019 | Reading time: 9 mins

Recreated from
Recreated from

Definition of Respect

Respect in general

Originally, respect means “deep admiration and regard” a person has for someone because of their capabilities and moral qualities. It “comes from knowing, liking, and trusting a person” – such as a family member, a friend, or a colleague we know quite well.

This kind of respect comes from authenticity, honesty, and trust, and therefore brings about long-term values to where such respect is cultivated.

Respect in Agile Scrum framework

In Agile culture, respect means “to look or view again”. Respect, as a Scrum value, encourages abandoning what we think we’ve already known about our Scrum team members and adopting a second look at them, “a sincere appreciation for the unique capabilities that they contribute [to the Scrum team]” (Scrum Alliance 2017).

If transparency, inspection, and adaptation altogether build up the muscles of Scrum, Respect alongside the other 4 Scrum values (Courage, Focus, Commitment, and Openness) play important roles in constructing the Scrum’s soul (Scrum Alliance 2017). In Agile software development, true Respect comes from getting to know each Scrum team member and trusting them as “independent people” capable of delivering desired performance.

Reproduced from Scrum Alliance (n.d.)

Follow this link to find out more about Scrum values in another Scrum Alliance video.

Benefits of Respect in agile workplace

Benefit 1: Perform better

Associate Professor Christine Porath at Georgetown University said leaders are skeptical of being nice or being respectful to others because “they believe they’ll appear less leader-like”.

However, data from over 20,000 employees around the world shows what people want most from their leaders is respect.

“Being treated with respect was more important than recognition and appreciation, useful feedback, and even opportunities for learning”.

What’s more, leaders who act with respect, in fact, are “twice as likely to be viewed as leaders”, “perform tremendously better”, and positively increase their staff’s ability to concentrate and deliver better performances themselves (higher productivity).

Benefit 2: Increase staff well-being

Various studies have demonstrated that those who feel respected by their leaders show:

  • Significantly improved health

  • Much higher levels of engagement & commitment to their organizations (which means minimized turnover)

  • Better work performance

For that reason, respect is not only good for the leaders, respect is healthy for everyone in the company.

keep calm and show respect

Benefit 3: Encourage a healthy organizational culture

Not only respect increases the staff well-being, but organization development consultant Susan M. Heathfield (2019) and Dr. Carol O’Connor (2015) also found respect is the crux of meaningful work and good relationships, which in turn strengthens a trustful and positive organizational culture.


  • Enables honest discussion

  • Encourages constructive criticism (important for continuous improvement in Scrum)

  • Promotes business growth

  • Encourages different ideas and points of view to be shared without fear of being ridiculed (important for innovation-driven decisions)

What is the result of a workplace where everyone is respectful to one another?

“We’re more productive, creative, helpful, happy and healthy” (Christine Porath 2018).

Scrum Masters’ respect brings everyone closer on the journey of Scrum.
Scrum Masters’ respect brings everyone closer on the journey of Scrum.

Benefit 4: Build up strong team spirit and rapport

When everyone in an organization can discuss honestly with one another, insights start to flourish as teams meet new challenges and attempt to solve problems on regular basis. Respect increases Scrum teams’ openness for new ideas and courage in overcoming challenges together as a team.

In addition, in a 2011 article on Scrum Alliance, Geoff Watts articulated respect plays an important role in facilitating relationships and interactions (Agile manifesto‘s first element), as well as resolving conflicts in the Scrum team. It is because, with respect, decisions in Scrum Teams are made based on consensus (mutual agreement), persuasion, and openness – rather than control normally seen in traditional authoritarian leadership styles.

Obviously, respect lifts up team spirit and develops team rapport significantly.

Benefit 5: Earn mutual respect

Respect is a spirit-lifting habit – both for the one who shows respect and the one who receives respect.

“If you can imagine yourself in another person’s shoes as they go about their lives, it will be easy to understand their need for your respect”.

With this thinking in mind, agile servant-leaders can always show courtesy to others first without considering whether others show them the same respect.

In his book Secrets of Great Leaders, Dr. Carol O’Connor found when people are treated by someone with respect, they are much more likely to respond to that person with respect in return.

It’s important to note that only truthful respect earns respect in return. It’s actually a healthy sense of respect based on authenticity and sincerity that brings positive changes.

Respect is one of the core values driving Axon Active’s agile successes.
Respect is one of the core values driving Axon Active’s agile successes.

Signs of disrespectful behaviors in agile workplace

Synonymous with the state of being rude and uncivil, disrespect includes a wide range of behaviors.

Although disrespect means differently to different people, most would agree on certain behaviors as expressions of disrespect. According to Dr. Christine Porath (associate professor of management from Georgetown University), Dr. Shelly D. Lane (associate professor of communication from the University of Texas at Dallas), and Jim Donovan (leadership coach and author of Happy @ Workbook), disrespectful behaviors involve the following:

  • Gossiping

  • Mocking others

  • Idle complaining

  • Using harsh and unkind language

  • Belittling or denigrating someone

  • Texting, when in a conversation or a meeting with someone

  • Teasing people, when you know it’s going to hurt their feelings

  • Telling offensive and inappropriate jokes for personal interest

  • Talking behind someone’s back, with the purpose of ganging up with others on this person

  • Swearing, cursing, and using profane language at work

This, by no means, is an exhaustive list detailing all disrespectful behaviors we may bump into in reality. However, it gives us an idea of the many ways in which disrespect can be expressed.

By Robert K. Greenleaf ‘s definition of a servant leader (i.e. “The servant-leader is servant first”), if a servant-leader does not have respect for others besides the quality of humility, he or she cannot be a “servant-first”.

Watch Christine Porath’s TED talk to learn more:

Hidden costs of disrespectful behaviors explained

Costs of two common disrespectful behaviors at work

Behavior 1: Gossiping

Reproduced from
Reproduced from

Jim Donovan (2014) shows gossiping is a “pointless and destructive” habit among both men and women because they:

  • Ruin working relationships

  • Drag down work-productivity

  • Worsen work morale

  • Create difficult work-environment

  • Cause good people to leave the company

Behavior 2: Swearing and cursing

Reproduced from
Reproduced from
a. As uncivil and unethical acts

In her 2016 book Communication in a Civil Society, Dr. Shelly D. Lane said “cursing and profanity are uncivil and unethical because such language entails expressing ourselves without concern for others and our community”.

In other words, swearing does not align with the values of servant leadership – which emphasizes one’s concern for others.

Several cities in the United States such as Raritan (New Jersey), Fostoria (Ohio), and Middleborough (Massachusetts) have recognized cursing their official “uncivil” behavior and consequently banned swearing in public.

b. As forecasts for shadowed career prospects

A CareerBuilder survey on 2,000 hiring managers and 3,800 workers from companies of different sizes and industries showed those who curse at work now will face deteriorated career prospects later. It is because:

  • 81% of employers believe that the use of curse words brings the employee’s professionalism into question

  • 71% believe swearers lack control

  • 68% said those who curse at work lack maturity

  • 64% said that they’d think less of an employee who repeatedly uses curse words

  • 57% said they’d be less likely to promote someone who swears in the office

  • 54% think of the swearers as less intelligent

As forecasts for shadowed career prospects

Costs to disrespectful organizations as a whole

Whether disrespect is experienced firsthand (i.e. being rude to directly) or witnessed secondhand (i.e. “just see or read rude words”), disrespectful behaviors take excruciating toll on companies as a whole – in terms of emotions, motivation, work performance, and in the way people treat each other at work.

Cost #1: Sabotaged teamwork

Dr. Christine Porath, lead researcher and associate professor of management at Georgetown University, conducted various studies on this subject over the years.

She found that, “the number one reason tied to executive failure was an insensitive, abrasive, or bullying style”. Disrespectful behaviors among company leaders like shouting, swearing, and criticizing someone harshly, when experienced or observed by their staff members:

  • Shut down their employees’ brains

  • Rob their employees’ cognitive resources

  • Interfere with their information processing and recall

  • Impact their ability to make decisions

  • Stop their potential to acting kindly and cooperatively with others at work

To put it in better light, she shows that people’s attention to information crucial to their work is reduced by 5 times. And their likelihood to help their teammates is decreased by 3 times.

For instance, Dr. Christine Porath recounted a doctor who had shouted at his staff members, who subsequently gave an emergency patient a wrong dosage of medication, resulting in the patient’s death. This is how disrespect can sabotage work performance in an immediate way.

Cost #2: Low-spirited staff and high turnover

Through her studies on leadership effectiveness, Dr. Christine Porath demonstrated that people who are treated with disrespect:

  • Feel discouraged to work

  • Take longer time to make decisions and finish work

  • “Make significantly more errors”

And when disrespect’s toll reaches people’s limit:

  • 12% left their job (i.e. “I quit”)

  • 66% cut back work efforts (i.e. “I don’t want to invest too much of myself here”)

  • 80% lost time worrying about what had happened (i.e. “I feel shocked/ terrorized/ unsafe going to work”, or “I don’t know if such behavior will perpetuate in the future”)

Based on Christine Porath’s report, Cisco estimated that disrespect would cost the tech giant a whopping 12 million dollars – annually!

Cost #3: Impaired creativity

In his book Secrets of Great Leaders, Dr. Carol O’Connor found people who work in a disrespectful workplace are “self-protective”.

They are more skeptical when it comes to sharing their ideas because of the fear of being humiliated – which stops the possibility to innovate and change for the better in organizations.

For Agile tech firms, it can be said that disrespect is really bad news. Because the Agile mindset promotes frequent feedback loops, openness to new ideas, and adaptation to changes. How can an Agile company be ‘agile’ when innovative ideas are threatened every time they can be shared?

As a result, Christine Porath advised:

“Each one of us can be more mindful and can take actions to lift others up around us, at work, at home, online, in schools and in our communities”.

Dr. Christine Porath and Bryan Cave’s Code of Civility (Reproduced from Marleen van den Neste 2018)
Dr. Christine Porath and Bryan Cave’s Code of Civility (Reproduced from Marleen van den Neste 2018)

How to cultivate respect among agile servant-leaders

Through small acts

Respect doesn’t ask agile servant-leaders to exert much effort to make huge shifts. In fact, small things can already make a big difference.

“Thanking people, sharing credit, listening attentively, humbly asking questions, acknowledging others and smiling has an impact”.

As mentioned earlier, people are more likely to act respectfully when being respected. Every small act of the agile servant leaders can have ripple effect in spreading and sustaining a positive behavior like respect in an organization, or even in a larger social context.

Through kind thoughts

Agile servant leaders’ respect and kindness for others can be shown through the thoughts they have in mind. Like Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh once said:

“When we look at a candle, we say that the candle is radiating light, heat, and fragrance. [W]e aren’t very different from the candle. We are offering our insight [and] our views right now. Every moment you have a view, […] you emit that view. […] When you are mindful of this and can look deeply, you can produce thoughts that are full of compassion and understanding.”

As a result, being kind in their thoughts is a way to cultivate real respect and kindness among agile Scrum Masters. Having kind thoughts on a regular basis also helps agile servant leaders limit uncivil behaviors both at work and at home naturally.

A note for you

Keep in mind that being respectful doesn’t mean we cannot have strong opinions, disagree, or give negative feedback, said Dr. Christine Porath. We can do all of that with all our respect.

“The key is to be agile and mindful”, said Christine Porath in her 2018 TED talk.

Handy tips

To cultivate respect and civility at work, Ron Corbin, HR Director for the City of Yuma (Arizona State, USA), proposes some of the ways including:

  • Pay attention and acknowledge

  • Think the best

  • Speak kindly

  • Listen

  • Respect other’s opinions and viewpoints

  • Apologize earnestly

  • Refrain from idle complaints

  • Develop trust among participants

Scrum Breakfast Vietnam events by Axon Active like No Ego Leadership in Another View will be the golden opportunity for leaders to develop skills that enable them to lead from the heart.
Scrum Breakfast Vietnam events by Axon Active like No Ego Leadership in Another View will be the golden opportunity for leaders to develop skills that enable them to lead from the heart.


Through this article, you are now equipped with a better understanding of what respect means, how important it is to agile servant-leadership and hidden costs of disrespectful behaviors for organizations, and the agile servant leaders themselves.

We hope that this article will inspire you to learn more about the culture of respect and cultivate your own respectful quality as well as that of others in your agile workplace!

In the next and also last blogpost, we will summarize each habit and give you some recommendations for learning resources which we believe can aid you along your own journey of building up these habits yourself! Please stay tuned.

Looking for a reliable offshore software development company in Vietnam who work with respect and integrity?

Axon Active is the best partner as we are well-versed IT teams guided by experts who have years of experience in driving agile performances using Scrum and other popular agile frameworks and practices. To learn more about how to kickstart your agile offshore software development project, read our guide, or contact us to learn further!


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