The Golden Rule of Leadership

The leadership development market is estimated to be over $14 billion. Yet I believe so much of leadership can be summed up simply and powerfully: lead others the way you, yourself, would like to be led.

Let’s start with what happens when the opposite happens.

I’ve seen the following scenario play out countless times in the leaders with whom I’ve worked.

A board member makes a brusque, last minute request of the CEO for a report on a new program. She passes on the request in a abrupt way to her VP. The VP urgently and carelessly passes it on to his program manager. She then asks her intern to do it at 4:55pm. The intern assembles the report and passes it up to his boss who micromanages, critiques, and forgets to thank the intern for his work — a pattern replicated as the document moves back up the leadership hierarchy.

What happened here?

Every single person — except the poor intern — replicated their manager’s leadership with their direct reports, even though none of them would like to be treated the way they treated others. Who likes last-minute, unexpected requests thrusted upon us? Who appreciates being micromanaged? Who doesn’t hope for gratitude for the work they do? Yet the team got stuck in a negative cycle of leadership passed from the top down.

How often do we mirror the bad leadership habits of our own leader, frustrated they aren’t leading in the way we want, yet do the exact same thing to those we manage?

Any of these leaders could have bravely broken the spiral of bad leadership and chosen, instead, to lead others in the way they would like to be led.

The key is when you feel frustration from your boss about how they are leading you, instead of accepting that as the inevitable norm, take a moment to stop and think how you would prefer to be led. Let this moment of reflection guide you as you interact with your own team. Refuse to accept the bad leadership that you receive as the model of leadership you provide to others. Bravely choose to be the leader you wish you had.

Many leaders — both new and old — get paralyzed by fear, thinking they don’t know how to lead effectively. But we all know how to lead. It simply requires thinking about how you, yourself, would like to be lead. And then leading that way. Is this something you wish your boss would do? Do it! Is this something your boss does which drives you crazy? Don’t do it!

Follow the golden rule of leadership and watch your team light up — and maybe you’ll even inspire others to lead the way they want to be led, too.

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