Invest Hamilton County

Memos From Mike

The Golden Rule – Not So Golden in the Workplace
October 14, 2022

The Golden Rule – Not So Golden in the Workplace

I remember growing up a lesson instilled in pretty much everyone was, “treat others how you want to be treated.” It is an important moral lesson in empathy and one that will hopefully be taught to children for generations to come. However, in the workplace (and I’ll admit sometimes for me at home) we often find our best intentions are met with pushback or breed resentment. This is because the Golden Rule assumes we all want to be supervised/treated the same way, process information the same way, are productive the same way, and manage our lives the same way. It is a tool for teaching empathy, not a model of effective leadership.

No personality type is wrong. I often get trapped in thinking others should work how I do. I view myself as a productive leader/employee and at times can’t understand why people don’t just manage their time and productive capacity in the same way as me? We’re all the hero in our own story… and following that path leads to condescension and resentment.

A peer will be venting and say something like, “I gave the task over to them but they keep coming back and asking more questions! I just want them to get the work done!”… at the same time that person who was given the task is probably also venting and saying, “they expect me just to do the work with half the information I need to start the project!” The flip dynamic also exists where a supervisor provides too much information for a person who wants to figure a project out as they go and doesn’t need all the details up front.

That’s just one example among many that occur within our working dynamics. Some organizations (including ours) rely on personality or behavior indexes as an intro to how people like to work. These tools can be useful if used right. It has to be about identifying core drives related to how we manage time/tasks and how we interact with people in individual and group dynamics.

 The most effective measure a supervisor can take is the purposeful construction of a vulnerable relationship, in which both parties emotional/information needs are understood and communicated. This will seldom be a dynamic that evolves from the bottom-up and needs to be modeled at the highest levels possible within an organization to show people, “this is how we lead.” 

It starts with self-awareness. Every time I find myself thinking anything akin to, “they should just do XYZ my way…” I have to recognize the fallacy of that statement. I have to realize that as good as my answer may be to, “who am I to tell someone else how to work?” it doesn’t matter as every individual has nearly the same internal narrative regarding their own capability and capacity.

“I don’t have time to figure out how someone else works,” is also often a barrier to effective delegation, but taking that time in an intentional manner can help everyone involved by building a holistic and diverse team dynamic.

 If you’re meeting a new team member, or struggling with an existing one here are some steps you can think through:

  • Am I the one determining how much information they need to do a project or are they?
  • If someone comes back to me wanting more information, how did I handle that? Was I dismissive? If so… intentionally have a new level-setting conversation. “My boss is too busy to help me do my job right, doesn’t care what I need or (even worse) thinks I’m incompetent” is the emotional foundation of an unintended quiet quitting type mentality.
  • If someone lacks the confidence to vocalize their needs be vulnerable about yours and some of the ways that your own needs create challenges. The modeling of vulnerability by leaders is half the battle for effective team dynamics.

 Our team just finished a full day diving into all of this. We were blessed with a group willing to be vulnerable, open and honest. This let us work through a ton of strategic and tactical priorities regarding how we work together. With that comes a need to practice what we preached on an ongoing basis and never get stuck in the “only one way works” rut that is often convenient for leaders who see a lot of things on the team’s plate. We came out of it with things we needed to adapt individually to meet the needs of the team, vocalized how we work and our key needs, and made some commitments regarding how we would work together.

Even with that… I still need to remind myself regularly that my way is not the only way… but I’m getting better.