Collaborative Leadership Blog

Honoring Your Workforce

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence   –Martin Luther King–

The shutdown of the US government impacted millions of Americans—not only 800,000 workers, but also their families, government contractors, small businesses, farmers, air traffic controllers, and the public all across the country. By the time you read this, we may very well be in a second shutdown. According to a CNBC report 78% of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck (January 9, 2019). Vox reported in late 2017 that 83% of the tax cuts go to the top 1% of the population. Most recently, teachers in Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver, and Chicago are striking for better working conditions and salaries because they cannot afford to live on their current incomes. There are demonstrations for the $15 minimum wage so that 59% of our workers can afford to live.

The message to the American worker appears to be that they don’t matter, that they have to fight for a living wage, and that they are relatively powerless to change their circumstances. To make matters worse, the increased use of artificial intelligence, robots, and other technological changes which put their jobs at risk, can accelerate this sense of insignificance and powerlessness.

The people we work with are the country’s economic engine. We need their productive energy, creativity, hard work, and commitment to the success of our enterprises. So we have an opportunity to reverse course and shift the message from “You don’t matter” to “You are essential to our success”. We can do this by creating a collaborative leadership culture that rests on these 5 principles:

  • Honor: That we honor and value the worth of every person who works for us, by ensuring that they have meaningful work, are treated fairly, and by providing them with a living wage commensurate with the cost-of-living in their communities
  • Self-Esteem: That we create workplaces that empower the human spirit, that focus on learning and development, and ensure the dignity of every individual
  • Respect: That we respect the intellect, aspirations, competencies, and hard work of every worker, recognizing the value that each brings to the workplace
  • Engagement & Ownership: That we actively engage our workers in every aspect of our enterprises, and give them ownership of the business’ vision, mission, ethics, and work processes—that they can “own” their job
  • Acknowledgement: That we celebrate the growth, development, and achievements of individuals and teams so that they know they are appreciated

At a time in our current ethos when people are being degraded because of their race, color, religion, country of origin, or sexuality, and where the livelihoods of tens of millions of people are mere subsistence, we have a chance to reverse course. It starts at the enterprise level. It starts with leadership who choose to fully honor the dignity of their workforce.


Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and author of a forthcoming book: The New Age of Collaboration: Leadership for the 21st Century, 2020. You can contact him at or (919)265-9616