"The Golden Rule" states: "Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you." Variations of this mantra date back as far as 5,000 years. At home and in school, I was taught to abide by this philosophy.
When I was 10, I thought I was practicing the Golden Rule when my parents asked me what my brother wanted for his birthday. In a split second, I replied, "Green Ghost" -- a board game that glowed and you played in the dark. I loved that game! But when my 13-year-old brother opened the gift, I immediately detected his lack of enthusiasm. For the next year, whenever my parents were not around Michael reminded me of how I had messed up his birthday. So the following year, when my parents asked me what Michael wanted for his birthday, I simply stated, "Go ask him."
Fast-forward a few years. Almost every manager I worked for during my career spoke of "treating others as you want to be treated." For me, the result was similar to my brother's experience with "Green Ghost" -- I received praise and rewards that mirrored the way my managers liked to be praised and rewarded. Moreover, my development plans often consisted of improving less around my natural talents and more around my managers' strengths. I was frustrated and disengaged because few of my managers asked me how I wanted to be recognized.
As a coach, I've learned that the best managers break the Golden Rule every day. Instead, they manage by exception. Gallup's groundbreaking (and aptly named) book, First, Break All the Rules (FBATR), reveals that great managers understand that each individual is true to their own nature and talents. These managers know that each person must be motivated and developed differently.
"Everyone should be treated as an exception. Each employee has his own filter -- his own way of interpreting the world around him. And therefore each employee will demand different things of you, the manager."
--First, Break All the Rules
As key drivers of employee engagement, managers are in a unique position to help inspire and coach employees to release their talents around performance, and many managers are looking for researched and practical ways to do so. As strengths coaches, we have the opportunity to guide managers seeking to grow engagement and make a real difference with each employee by coaching them to follow the "Platinum Rule" as laid out by Dr. Tony Alessandra: "Treat others the way they want to be treated." The Platinum Rule shifts relationship-building from "this is what I want, so I'll give everyone the same thing" to "let me first understand what others want, then try to give it to them."
For managers who are accustomed to a "one-size-fits-all" approach, keeping track of each employee's needs may seem overwhelming, so here is a tip: When my parents asked me what my brother wanted for his birthday (after the Green Ghost incident), my response -- "Go ask him" -- was actually the best answer. Simply put, managing by exception boils down to one easy step -- asking questions. Here are some practical suggestions from industry experts of how you might coach managers to ask questions to help them manage by exception and reverse the Golden Rule:
- FBATR provides a list of powerful questions leaders can ask to manage by exception. These include: What are their (employees) goals? Where do employees see their careers heading? What personal goals would they feel comfortable sharing with you? How often do they want to meet to talk about their progress?
- FBATR also lists a series of "praise and recognition" questions great managers ask their employees: Do they like public or private praise? Written or verbal? Who is their best audience? What is the most meaningful recognition you ever received?
- In the February 16, 2017, edition of Forbes, Jay Sullivan suggests the best way to figure out what motivates those around you is to -- you guessed it -- ask. Some "starter" questions can include: What do you like about your current role? What don't you like about your current role? What learning opportunities have you had lately? What can I do to help you get the most out of your role?
- Claire Lew is CEO of @KnowYourCompany. Lew believes in helping employees talk about how they feel. In the July 12, 2017, edition of Medium, Lew discusses important questions to ask when having one-on-one conversations with employees. Some of the questions Lew calls "energy moments -- the positive stuff": What have you felt excited about working on this past year? What can I do to provide more opportunities to feel this way? When have you felt most motivated about the work you have been doing? What can we do to create an environment where you feel like that more often? When have you felt that this company was one of the best places you ever worked? How can we make this the best place you have ever worked?
For more tips on how to help clients effectively manage their employees, I suggest reviewing Jayson DeMers's article in the January 11, 2016, edition of Entrepreneur magazine, "The 10 Golden Rules of Effective Management."
Aretha Franklin said -- or rather, sang -- it best: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T … Find out what it means to me." If managers want to connect with and understand each employee and, in turn, drive engagement, they need to individualize and find out what really matters to each person they manage. Instead of following The Golden Rule, managers should ask the million-dollar question: How do employees like to be managed? There is only one way to find out: Just ask.