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Forget the ‘Golden Rule’…To Be a Better Manager

Forget the ‘Golden Rule’…To Be a Better Manager

Most of us have grown up with the encouragement to follow the ‘Golden Rule’ as a way to get along with others and be successful. The commonly ascribed idea of the Golden Rule is that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us. This is no doubt an important and relevant ‘rule’ to follow as we strive to make our way in the world.

Unfortunately, like most short-hand ‘tips’ and ‘rules’ for success, the Golden Rule is often over-generalized and misapplied. I think that this is especially true for company leaders and managers who, by my definition, are tasked with achieving things through other people.

As a manager development coach and executive leadership consultant, I have spent many hours across 20+ years in one-on-one conversations with both seasoned executive-level managers and people just emerging as key managers in a company. A core focus in these coaching conversations often entails helping the manager refine his or her ‘signature’ as a manager and company leader. That is, helping them bring into the light those beliefs, ambitions, values, and ‘rules’ that influence or guide their approach to their role, and then subsequently discern which ones enable their effectiveness and which ones hamper it.

Many times I hear managers citing the Golden Rule as their basis for dealing with people in their charge. They talk about striving to show respect to people in ways that they would find respectful. They talk about striving to be considerate of others in a manner that they themselves would experience as considerate. And so on. Some of these managers possess not only this noble intention but also the requisite behavioral skills to engender this ‘ethic of reciprocity’ between themselves and those working for them. Other managers, however, while also ascribing to this intention, actually have very little or no sense of how their behavior misaligns with the expression of this intention. The consequences of such often result in the creation of a very confusing and unrewarding work environment as well as less than optimal work outcomes for all concerned.

To be a good manager, one clearly needs to start by embracing the Golden Rule and learning how to align one’s behavior with the intention he or she is striving to convey.  It requires sound self-reflection and an in-depth examination of what ‘works for you’. By knowing what makes you feel good, what motivates you, and what gives meaning to your work, etc., you can then strive to do the same for others.

However, I have found that to be a better (great) manager, one needs to go beyond the Golden Rule and embrace the Platinum Rule.  While I cannot lay claim to having coined the term, I do want to tout what the term, in this context, denotes: Treat people, not as you want to be treated, but rather as they want to be treated. Embracing the Platinum Rule requires the ability and the willingness to shift focus away from oneself to a focus on others, and the differences among people. While knowing what motivates and drives you helps you to provide the same for others, knowing what motivates and drives them enables you to do the things that are more specifically meaningful and motivating to each of them. Doing this well is more likely to incite their energy and commitment for achieving what their work agenda requires of them than striving to support them in ways that are important to you.

For example, if a manager is insightful enough to know that when Employee A knows he is ‘on track’ and doing the right things he feels more empowered to do them as well as he can, the manager might provide more clarity and direction to Employee A than to Employee B, whom he knows feels more empowered to do her best work when guided by broader, less specific, directives.  This manager understands that, for her, getting less direction means that he trusts her ability to figure out what she needs to do to advance the work agenda, and as such energizes her to do her work well.

A Reginald Smythe’s Andy Capp comic strip from years past (Los Angeles Times, 26 July 1987) offers a simple illustration of the Platinum Rule.  In the comic strip, Andy flirts with a woman at the other end of the bar. His male drinking partner says, “You’re wasting your time, Andy – if only you could see y’self as others see you” to which Andy replies, “What’s that got to do with it?”.  Turning to the woman, Andy says, “You’re a real beauty, miss – are you a model?” to which she replies, “No, but people have often said that I should be.” and invites Andy down for a drink. As he abandons his male drinking partner to join the woman, Andy remarks, “You’ve got a lot to learn, Charlie. It’s all about seeing others as they see themselves.”

Make no mistake, being able to ‘see yourself as others see you’ is critically important to being an effective manager and team player. It is this ‘gift’ of self-awareness that when sufficiently honed can help you manage yourself in ways that enable others to accurately see the intentions behind your behavior. Do this well and those around you will come to see you as being trustworthy and as having integrity, two essential elements for effective leadership.

However, equally important to effectively leading and managing is the ability to see others as they see themselves.  Knowing what drives and motives others to do their best work, and styling your approach to leading and managing them to suite their individual and different needs will elevate the work performance of your group, and position you to be a better (great) manager.