In 1971, Philip Zimbardo recruited students to take part in a simulated prison in Stanford’s psychology building. Half were assigned the role of guard, the other half were prisoners. Soon, the guards began abusing the inmates in humiliating ways. The prisoners were stripped of their mattresses and their clothes. The guards forced them to stand in closets for hours while other prisoners were told to hurl insults at them. The guards encouraged each other to take part in the abuse. Six days in, Zimbardo stopped the experiment.
The guards referred to the prisoners by a numerical ID which stopped them from seeing them as humans. Subsequently, they felt free to abuse their peers without a second thought. They lost all respect for them and crossed the line of human decency.
When it comes to relationships, respect is fundamental. Without it, a benchmark of tolerance cannot be established. Rebel entrepreneurs never cross that line, whether it’s with their employees, their colleagues or their customers. They don’t judge people based on their role or their title. They don’t see labels. They have the same level of respect for everyone – cleaners, secretaries, CEOs. Once you assign a label to someone you stop seeing them as a person with feelings. This is the very reason why so many people are happy to hunt animals and consume meat, but they could never eat their own pet. They have given their pet a name or a label which has determined their level of respect. Conversely, some hunters and farmers will give animals derogatory names which make the kill much easier.
Once a title is given weight, respect becomes conditional and once broken, it’s difficult to rebuild. A great leader pays attention to what they tolerate. They lead by example, demonstrating what is, and what is not acceptable. Boundaries are informed by dignity. For instance, if a staff member is being let go, there is nothing to gain from belittlement. It’s better to remind them of their positive attributes and wish them well.
Respect is not informed by status or labels. A rebel entrepreneur sees the person and their potential, not their gender, race, religion, how they dress etc – and treats them with the kindness they deserve as a human being.