Breaking the golden rule – how we should incorporate differences into the way we manage people

Photo by CarbonNYC

Today in class we had a full day about self reflection. The idea, which I strongly agree with, is that you should know yourself before you try to work with other people, not to say, manage or lead them. We did all sorts of activities aimed at discovering ourselves, including learning about our learning style (Reflector, Theorist, Pragmatist, Activist), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to discover of types and preferences (I am a INTJ, by the way), etc.

The results were quite extraordinary and very interesting on the personal level. On the group level, I think we discovered how different we are from each other and the facilitators were able to demonstrate our differences in many ways. But I think that this is not the important lesson. If I had asked most of the class before today’s class to predict the results of the class, I think they would have probably described it quite accurately even if the numbers would not have been precise. We all know, in some level, that people are different and that there are different styles and preferences.

However, the problem is we are wired in the wrong way to deal with that knowledge. We have difficulties when we see someone who is different than us. More importantly, we have difficulties imagining how he wants to be treated. So if we make an effort it is usually to treat him like we want to be treated. We all know the “Golden Rule” because it is widely know across cultures and religions. For example, all Jewish people know that The Sage Hillel formulated the Golden Rule in order to illustrate the underlying principles of Jewish moral law as follows:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn

This is a good general concept and at a religious (and maybe political) level it is a smart rule. But the problem is that if you move into the world of management, this well intentioned rule leads you to bad managerial decisions (like many conventional wisdoms). Because, if we agree that we are all different it also means that we like and hate different things. This means, I may hate the way you like to be treated. And if I follow the rule (and treat you like I want to be treated), I will avoid giving you what you want.

I know I made this mistake a number of times in my life. I tried to treat my teammates or followers as I wanted to be treated. But each of my teammates was (and is) different and unique. They don’t want to be treated like I want to be treated; they want to get individualized attention. I made similar mistakes with building classes and presentations the way I wanted to see them. This was a mistake because again, different people have different learning styles.

In his book, “First, break all the rules“, Markus Buckingham describes what great manager do. One of these things is ignoring the Golden Rule:

The best managers break the Golden Rule every day. They would say don’t treat people as you would like to be treated. This presupposes that everyone breathes the same physiological oxygen as you. For example, if you are competitive, everyone must be similarly competitive. If you like to be praised in public, everyone else must, too. Everyone must share your hatred of micromanagement.

So, next time you get to work in a team or lead one, don’t make the assumption that although everybody is different, by treating them how you would want to be treated will be enough. You need to find out, how they would like to be treated. Each and every one. Nobody promised that being a good manager is easy.



2 Responses to “Breaking the golden rule – how we should incorporate differences into the way we manage people”

  1. Sue Massey Says:

    Thanks for posting the article, was certainly a great read!

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Sue,
    Just saw you comment!
    Thanks. I am glad you liked it…
    hope to gear more comments form you!

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