Leaders: The Golden Rule Is Tarnished and Irrelevant

Written by Dr. Kelly Whelan

Dr. Whelan is the Founder and CEO of Belem LLC. She specializes in partnering, empowering, and positioning executive leaders and teams for success by helping them design strategies that create stakeholder impact.

August 24, 2020


The beloved Golden Rule is no longer relevant.

Yes, I said it!

I know, like many of you, I’ve been encouraged to live by the Golden Rule my whole life.

It wasn’t until a recent podcast guest brought the notion of treating others the way that leader wanted to be treated did I begin to think deeply about the idea that, the Golden Rule is well-meaning, but backwards.

It’s not that this leader was wrong to want to elevate the way people are treated. It’s that as leader, it’s time to broaden our thinking to embrace diversity.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe all people want and should be honored, valued, and loved.

But we must go beyond that.

You’ve probably heard the saying:


“do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”


There are aspects of shared values throughout cultures taught for 2,500 years to include the Golden Rule. This preface is shared today by Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as a foundation for success, linked to the Christian Bible expression in Matthew 7:12, as well is the premise for other religious sects.

While moral character must run deep within leaders, the Golden Rule makes an overarching suggestion that all people should be treated how we [ourselves] want to be treated, which is impossible.

We know, based on medical research, that we are created with distinct, unique attributes. My DNA is different than yours. No one on this earth is exactly like you and that should be CELEBRATED!


It’s In the Knowing

As leaders, we bring unique experiences and world-views to our workplace. Therefore, how can we know how to treat others if we are all so different?

It’s simple.

Great leaders take the time to know their people. How one may want to be treated within that may look different from how their colleague wants to be treated. When leaders understand what is meaningful to one individual may not necessarily be useful or meaningful to the next, you begin a journey of intentional learning.

To create a culture where diversity and unification are the norms, leaders must get out of their seats and cultivate what makes your organization, division, or team so special…your people.


How can we embrace differences and create meaningful impact?


As leader, it’s time to get out of your board room and into your hallways, cafeterias, and locker rooms. And, if you’re still working remotely, engage in ways that may seem unconventional. This might include a mining for clues video call that aren’t drab and boring, but fun!

You need to know your people AND for your people to know you.

On a scale of 1 [low] 10 [high], how are you doing with this?

Research suggests leaders are failing in this department. Just because you are a key decision-maker does not give you a pass to disconnect from your people.

For the senior leader:

  • What do your people know about you [besides your title]?
  • Have you ever had conversations with your people beyond targets, numbers, and pink slips?
  • If your people don’t have personal knowledge of you beyond the fact that you are in a senior position, how will they know how you would like to be treated or what’s important to you as an individual?

The same is true for the rest of the organization.

  • What do you know about your co-worker, and what do they know about you?
  • Do you know what is meaningful to them?
  • Do they know what would make your day?



Leading In Community

The bottom line, in this case, is not the balance sheet.

The bottom line is… your people are made for community. Community takes relationships. Relationships flourish when people feel they are heard.

It’s time to tweak the Golden Rule so that instead of treating people like we want to be treated, begin to treat others as they would like to be treated.

Understanding a person’s strengths can help with that.

At Belem, we are strengths enthusiasts and here to help you create a beyond the Golden Rule culture and enhance a diverse community of leaders and teams within your organization.

When leaders begin a journey of self and other awareness, the outcome is clear. Powerful teams of unique, masterfully crafted people will engage in meaningful ways.


Because they made a conscious decision to go beyond superficial and into a place of deeply knowing the precious commodity within…the heartbeat of your people.

How are you doing with that?

Be sure to tune in to our podcast CONVERSATIONS For Leaders & Teams, or on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform!

Click here to purchase your copy of Leadership Excellence By Design: Strategies For Sustainability & Strength on Amazon!

Leadership By Design. Book by Dr. Kelly Whelan.

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