The single most important leadership skill

Everybody wants a little respect. The human need to be respected is well-documented, from soul singers like Aretha Franklin to business studies on employee needs, says inc.

Christine Porath, associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, writes in Harvard Business Review that civility and respect “enhance your influence and performance,” and are “positively associated with being perceived as a leader.” According to an HBR study of 20,000 global employees, respect also fosters their “commitment and engagement.”

“No other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the outcomes we measured,” Porath writes. “Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback–or even opportunities for learning, growth, and development.”

The difficulty is that the fast pace of work isn’t conducive to taking your time and being gentle with people. But Porath says respecting others doesn’t require much time at all. Below, find out how to be more respectful and increase your employees’ engagement and performance.

Be self-aware.
Many people walk through life without thinking of how they affect other people. As a leader, you have no choice–you need to know how your actions, words, and behavior are perceived. “The key to mastering civility begins with improving your self-awareness,” Porath writes.

You should ask for feedback from your trusted colleagues. Porath says you should find out “when, where, how, with whom are you at your best.” Are there times of the day you’re respectful and others you’re not? Are there certain people or situations you treat with respect and others you don’t? Find themes and patterns to your behavior and identify your shortcomings, she advises.

Leverage anonymous feedback.
When you’re the boss, it’s difficult to get the truth from most of the people who work for you. It may sound obvious, but if you want to improve your respect and civility, you should leverage the whole company’s perceptions. Porath says you should ask for honest feedback about your leadership by setting up an anonymous online forum or a suggestion box. She relates how Lieutenant Christopher Manning, a naval intelligence officer at the Pentagon, instituted a suggestion box for his subordinates. But Porath says he went a step further to ensure participation by instituting incentives–such as vacation time or the opportunity to attend a class or conference of interest–for “insightful critiques.” If the issues are serious, get a coach to help you conquer your temper, uncivil behavior, or other issues.

Be held accountable.
If you have big improvements to make, you’re going to need help to change your behavior. Tell your executive team about what actions you want to curb, and ask them to keep you honest. As an example, Porath says a CEO she helped had an issue with interrupting people in meetings and taking over people’s ideas before they were finished presenting. The CEO, whom Porath refers to as Karen, worked with a coach to come up with techniques to stop interrupting people and foster an open dialogue. The solution for Karen was just to be conscious of the issue and tap her toes instead of taking over someone else’s presentation. Find your own technique, and then ask your team to call you out.

Porath says “small acts have big returns.” If you don’t host an open dialogue, learn to stop cutting people off. If you are civil in the morning but your mood deteriorates in the afternoon, find out how to keep your mood in check. Build your self-awareness and start treating people respectfully. Work doesn’t have to be unpleasant, just like the boss doesn’t need to be a jerk. If you want your employees to perform better, encourage everyone to be a bit more open, honest, and courteous. “Your civility will cascade throughout your organization, with benefits to you–and your organization,” Porath writes.