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Why leadership is not always about treating others how you’d like to be treated yourself

As a leader, have you ever found yourself saying that you take pride in the ‘golden rule’ of treating others the way you would like to be treated yourself? If you have, this could be one of the biggest leadership challenges that you face and one to seriously reconsider.

The idea that leaders should treat people the way they themselves would like to be treated is based on a principle known as the ‘golden rule’ or ‘ethic of reciprocity,’ which suggests that one should treat others as one wishes to be treated.

While this principle can be a valuable guide for interpersonal interactions, there are some important reasons why you should not always adhere strictly to this rule in a leadership context:

1. Bias and Assumptions: As a leader, you may unconsciously have biases and assumptions about what is best for others based on your own experiences and perspectives. Treating everyone as you would wish to be treated can perpetuate these biases and overlook the fact that others may have different needs and expectations.

2. Communication Styles: People have different communication styles. Some may prefer direct and candid communication, while others may value a more diplomatic or empathetic approach. You’ll need to adapt your communication style to effectively connect with different individuals and teams.

3. Empathy and Understanding: Effective leadership involves empathy and understanding of others’ needs, motivations and perspectives. While you can use your own experiences as a reference point, it’s crucial to actively listen and learn from team members to develop a deeper understanding of their unique needs and aspirations.

Understanding how people would like to be treated involves a combination of active listening, empathy, observation and effective communication. Here are some strategies to help you gain insight into how your team members prefer to be treated:

1. Active Listening:

  • Practice active listening by giving your full attention when team members speak.

  • Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand their perspectives and concerns.

  • Avoid interrupting or making judgments prematurely.

2. Empathy:

  • Put yourself in others’ shoes to understand their feelings and viewpoints.

  • Show genuine care and concern for your team members’ well-being.

  • Acknowledge their emotions and validate their experiences.

3. Tailor Your Approach:

  • Recognise that different individuals have different preferences.

  • Adapt your leadership style to accommodate these differences when appropriate.

By consistently applying these strategies, you can gain a deeper understanding of how your team members would like to be treated and create a work environment that promotes trust, collaboration and mutual respect.

To find out more about our leadership coaching and the ALIGNED® talent model, please contact me at so we can continue the conversation.


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