Actions to Take: Routinely review your work in this context. Take extra time plan your approach for tough situations. Do not reduce the golden rule to simply “be nice.”
I won’t be saying anything groundbreaking in this post. “The things I want from my boss are the things my employees want from me.” That is just the golden rule, rephrased for management. So how did it land on a very short list of managerial rules?
This is one of my managerial rules because it is such an obviously good thing, yet it is not obvious how to put it into practice. We learn about the golden rule in kindergarten (in the United States, at least). Yet most people have an incredibly difficult time adhering to such a simple idea. It is not automatic to treat people the way you would like to be treated. We will send an email about that tricky disagreement instead of speaking to someone directly. We will doggedly adhere to written procedures, saying that our hands are tied. We will brush off problematic behaviors instead of giving feedback. We do these things even though we would want a chance to speak face-to-face, we would want flexibility on the rules, and we would want to know if we are messing up. The golden rule isn’t natural.
Applying this rule to your work leads to some unintuitive results. For instance, most bosses think “I’ll jump in and help with the work” when employees are having a tough time. Examine that behavior for a moment. Let’s say you are struggling to manage a difficult employee. What do you want from your boss? Do you want them to literally take over the supervision of that employee? Maybe that sounds attractive in the moment. When you think through the implications, though, it is a terrible way to go. That problem employee will see you as incapable; you will not learn anything new; and your boss will have to take on your work, which is not a good look.
We really want assistance in fixing the underlying problem, not help putting out the fire that is already there. You want support and coaching to manage that problem employee effectively on your own. By the same token, your employees don’t really want your direct assistance when things are tough. They don’t want you taking over their jobs. They want you to find ways to make their work better, more effective, so they can do the work themselves. Yes, you may need to lend a hand to get through a spike in work, but your main focus should be improving things to prevent those spikes in the first place.
Well-meaning parents and kindergarten teachers sometimes fail us when teaching the golden rule. It is often reduced to a lesson about not hitting or saying mean things, effectively becoming a replacement for “be nice.” Do not fall into this trap as a manager. If your only goal is “be nice,” you will fail in your responsibilities to your employees. Respecting others is of utmost importance in the workplace. “Respect” also mistakenly becomes a synonym for “be nice.” If you respect someone, then you respect their professionalism enough to give them tough news. You respect their abilities enough not to take over their work. You respect their maturity enough to be honest with them.
Bosses need help treating their employees the way they want to be treated. Here are some specific actions you can take to be a little bit better at applying this managerial rule:
- Routinely schedule time to review individual aspects of your job in the context of the golden rule. Ask yourself “Am I going about this the way I would want my boss to go about it for me?” Are you considering employees’ ideas as deeply as you would want your boss to consider yours? Are you giving the same scheduling flexibility you would want from your boss? Are you engaging in your employees’ work the way you would want your boss to engage with your work?
- Before tackling a tough conversation, take a walk and think about how you would want the situation handled if roles were reversed. Spend time imagining something similar happening to you. Think about what feelings you would be feeling, decide how you would want to be treated in light of that.
- Think about your boss’s shortcomings. Assume your employees think that you have the exact same shortcomings. When you have the thought, “I wish my boss would do more [blank],” do more [blank] yourself. (Apply this advice selectively. If you are an over-the-top bombastic personality with a stoic boss, you probably don’t need to be more bombastic with your employees.)
As a final caveat, do not let yourself or others corrupt this rule. A smart aleck might say “I would want my manager to stay out of my business and just let me do my job” or “I would want my manager to let me take long lunches and ignore it when I come in late.” No, they don’t. That same person would certainly want a manager to intervene if a coworker did something that bothers them. They certainly want the manager to fix someone else’s performance problems. No one gets to apply this as a “just for me” rule.
After reading this blog entry, I hope you will take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself, “What am I getting (or not getting) from my boss? Am I giving (or failing to give) the same thing to my employees?” This rule can be applied to virtually any managerial behavior. You can almost always improve upon any plan of action. Just take the time to consider it in the context: “am I handling this the way I would want it handled for me?”