2000-Year-Old Advice for Leaders

Where you set your priorities says a lot about who you are as a person

N. K. Carlson
Jan 13, 2020 · 4 min read
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Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

Leaders know that their most valuable resource is their followers. You cannot be a leader if you don’t have any followers.

If leaders know this, then why do so many leaders treat their most valuable resource as disposable? Many leaders treat their followers, their employees, their subordinates with a complete lack of respect.

I think that along the way to leadership, some leaders forget what it is like to be a follower. They forget what it is like to have little or no power. Their forgetfulness leads to a lack of empathy for those under their leadership. When this happens, they violate the Golden Rule:

This Golden Rule is the Golden Rule of life, business, and leadership and yet it is seriously neglected for the sake of profits.

The Golden Rule flips around our business ideas and values people over profits. Here are two ways that leaders can do this.

People as Tools

There is a series of children’s/young adult fantasy novels called The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. In it, the main character, Janner, is taken captive and forced to work in a horrible factory. The management of the factory uses child slave labor and calls everyone “tool.” These children lose their names and instead are seen only as tools who can make things to bring a profit.

Unfortunately, many companies are run the same way as this factory. Companies see people as tools who can produce a product and that is it. Tools are things that can be discarded when they have no more use. There is no more care or respect given.

Clearly, this violates the Golden Rule. No one wants to have their name erased to be called a tool. No one wants to be seen as just a part of a machine. So why do some leaders treat other people like this? It’s because they have lost sight of what is really important, that people are more valuable than profit.

This style of leadership cycles through people as if there was an endless supply to take their place. But sooner or later the well will dry up and the leader will wonder where it all went wrong. It went wrong the moment they valued their money over their people.

People as Mines

Some leaders view people as mines. This is similar to viewing them as tools. In a mine, resources are removed until there is nothing left. Then the mine is abandoned and the miners go elsewhere. Treating people like mines means working them until there is nothing left, then they are discarded.

Many companies use their employees like mines. They work their employees long, hard hours until the employee burns out. Then the employee quits or is fired. The leader and the company got all they could out of their mine and now it is time to move on.

How does this happen? It begins with a lack of empathy. No one likes to be mined. No one likes all of their ideas, energy, and intellect to be squeezed out of them like a sponge. Yet leaders lead in this way.

People as People

Here is the leadership revolution: treat people well. That’s it, that’s the big secret. Treat people like people and not as tools or mines.

Here is how that works itself out in practice. CEOs are paid immensely more than their employees. No one is arguing that CEOs shouldn’t be paid more than other employees, but the ratio of CEO pay to employee pay is through the rough. Following the Golden Rule means paying employees what they are worth and not the bare minimum. Clearly, there is money to go around, but it is not going around, it is going up to the top level. This discrepancy shows that top-level management sees employees as tools or mines.

Another way this shows itself is maternity and paternity leave. The United States is so far behind other developed companies in this regard. Following the Golden Rule means making family a priority for workers. Guarantee maternity and paternity leave in your company and you will become someone’s dream job. Treat your employees well and they will be productive and loyal. This will help your bottom line in the long run, but it is also the right thing today.

Let’s look at vacation time. Allowing employees more time off from work is following the Golden Rule. You don’t want to be in the office 365 days a year, so why would you make your employees. (Side note, if you do work 365 days a year, you are a maniac and need help.) Allow your employees time away from work and not just two weeks. I know someone who had to work Christmas Eve because their boss is a workaholic. That doesn’t follow the Golden Rule.

Treat your followers well and you will be a good leader. If you treat them as tools or mines, you may be a productive manager, but you will never be a transformational leader.

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N. K. Carlson

Written by

Author. I write about religion, theology, creativity, and leadership. Subscribe to my email list: http://eepurl.com/gPIFRT

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +754K people. Follow to join our community.

N. K. Carlson

Written by

Author. I write about religion, theology, creativity, and leadership. Subscribe to my email list: http://eepurl.com/gPIFRT

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +754K people. Follow to join our community.

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