October 23, 2018

How we treat each other matters, especially for leaders

How do you treat others as a leader?

I once knew a person in a leadership role who had a sign outside his door that said, “Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself.”

That sign bothered me.

In my view, the message reflected a wrongheaded attempt to take credit for the work that others did.  That individual tried to teach me that his sign was a reminder to delegate work that did not make the best use of his time.  He may have been right, and I continue to try to learn from this perspective.  But from that day forward, I resolved to have different sort of sign for my own office.

The message I wanted to project?  “How we treat each other matters.”  That felt like a better approach to leadership for me.

Why does it matter?

Even small actions can have serious consequences, perhaps most frighteningly and starkly illustrated in scenarios like those depicted in this popular television show, which hopefully serves as a reminder to practice kindness.

This applies in the workplace, too.

A purely Machiavellian, survival-of-the-fittest office environment is rarely desirable, and can destroy morale. But there must be a balance — too much “relational leadership” can be ineffective as well, though it rarely feels as toxic to most people as a cutthroat competitive environment.

Which way of treating each other works best?

Most spiritual traditions have some version of the “golden rule,” essentially saying something like, “treat others the way you want them to treat you.”  Such guidance is helpful, but a colleague of mine prefers what he calls the “platinum rule.”  This approach says, “treat others the way THEY want to be treated.”  The platinum rule seems to me to take into account people’s differences in a way that the golden rule doesn’t quite achieve.  Thinking in this way is what sets great leaders apart.

As leaders we can do things:

  • with others
  • for others, or
  • to others.

Which is typical of your leadership?  Do you gravitate toward one more than the others?  That stylistic approach probably defines how you are seen by those you lead.

Look at this video, and consider your responses to this post.  You may have some strong emotions, or some suggestions for improving workplace environments based on the ideas here. And if you’re inspired to learn more, check out this piece from one of my favorite bloggers, Lolly Daskal, who offers ideas for how to put these ideas into practice.

Your perspective

How do you treat others? How do they treat you? And how do these interactions play out in the workplace?

Please share your responses in the comments below.  I’m interested in a discussion on this topic!