Does the Golden Rule Apply to Leaders?

Growing up most of my life, I’ve always been told to respect and follow the Golden Rule.  Of course, when I refer to the Golden Rule, I mean the idea of treating others in the same way you’d like others to treat you.  On the surface, this has always seemed like a noble and well intended rule.

The Case against the Golden Rule

It wasn’t until I was managing my first team, I realized the Golden Rule is not always so golden.  In one case, it backfired completely.  I had an “A” player employee who had gone above and beyond to take care of a customer.  There had been numerous examples of this person providing top-notch customer service.  In this most recent example, the customer had taken the time to write a nice note to me about the service they’d received from this person.  As a manager, I wanted to recognize their efforts.

For me, I love to get recognition in front of groups of people.  It gives me a boost of energy to work hard and get recognized publicly.  So, in following the Golden Rule, I decided I would take time at the next staff meeting to recognize this individual and read the letter I had received from this customer.  It was a complimentary letter and in no way discounted any one else’s work.  So, I didn’t see any harm in my actions.

Much to my dismay, this star performer came to me after the meeting and had shared with me their embarrassment by my effort to recognize them.  They now felt separated from the rest of the team.  How could this be?  After some discussion, I came to realize this person was a very private person.  And while, he acknowledged my intent, he would have preferred if I’d just recognized his effort privately.  That was the “juice” that gave him energy.

In this case, me treating him in a way I would have appreciated, missed the mark.  Even worse – they felt worse off by my actions.  The Golden Rule let me down.

The “New” Golden Rule

The truth is people are different.  They have different likes, dislikes, goals, not to mention motivators.  It was from this lesson, I discovered a new Golden Rule… Treat others as they would like to be treated.

Looking back, if I had followed this rule, I would have known this employee as a private person, and the fact they like to be recognized privately.  In doing so, they would have received the acknowledgement in they way that was energizing to them!

The more I thought about this rule, it hit me.  It applies to everyone - from the people you work with, all the way down to the people you live with.

The “New” Rule is Not for The Faint of Heart

Every time I follow this new paradigm of thinking, I’ve found the results more positive and rewarding.  At the same time, I realize this “new” Golden Rule requires extra effort.

In order to follow this way of thinking, you need to really know the other person and how they want to be treated and recognized.  You need to know what makes them tick, then call on that knowledge when engaging with them.

I admit, this is not an always easy task. Not everyone is good at it.  There is no short-cut here.  It requires effort and caring.  However, one that I believe is well worth it.  Not to mention it is through application of this “new” Golden Rule that can endear people to your leadership.

My challenge… take the time to get to know those you lead.  Understand what motivates them and how they like to be rewarded and recognized.  When the opportunity strikes – treat them the way they would like to be treated.  Then… just step back and observe.