The Golden Rule

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli
The Golden Rule

Erika's reflection on how the Golden Rule plays out for her, both at work and at home.


I do a lot of management training, and one of the key bits of wisdom I try to impart is this: The Golden Rule (or “ethic of reciprocity”) is golden for a reason – to treat others the way you would like to be treated is one of the most compelling leadership tools we have. It’s simple, powerful, and also impossibly hard to consistently get right.

I think sometimes when we put on our “manager” hat (or “teacher” or “coach” or “any-other-position-that-denotes-leader-in-any-sort-of-way”) we forget this most basic rule, instead focusing on making sure that those around  us know that we’re IN CHARGE.  And sometimes showing that we’re IN CHARGE means that we set up rules and guidelines, systems and protocols, reports and templates… It can get very strict and rule-followy, which is great for running an efficient business, but hindering when we forget the human beings on the other end of those systems.

A very smart person once said that we judge ourselves by our intentions but others by their actions. Because I know that if I’m late to work, late on a report, not participating in a meeting, I usually have a good reason for it. But if my own staff is late or non-participatory, do I give them the benefit of the doubt? Or do I, annoyed and disappointed, jump right to conclusions, possibly unfair and inaccurate?    (Fortunately, I am lucky enough to have a great boss who definitely remembers the humans behind the systems, and on this National Boss’s Day, I salute her.)

Of course, opportunities for us to practice the Golden Rule don’t solely play out at work. As a mom I frequently feel like I flunk at this test. There are times when I hear the words that come out of my mouth, or the tone that I take with my children, and I simply cringe. My children, whom I love more than anything – who, out of anyone, I would always want to treat with the same kindness that I wish for myself. But, instead of treating them with constant and consistent kindness and care, the grumpy monster inside of me gobbles up all that goodness, and I snap at them. I am impatient. I get annoyed. Now, granted, four-year-olds and one-year-olds can sometimes be, well, let’s say trying, but the simple fact is, if someone treated me the way I sometimes treat them, it would make me sad and frustrated. Writing that, and thinking about it,  makes me want to delete these last few sentences, curl up in a ball, and  focus on how frequently and easily I am able to achieve the Golden Rule elsewhere, but that would miss the point, wouldn’t it?

Artist Leigh Standley (also known as Curly Girl Design) has a wonderful “ism” that says: “Live imperfectly with great delight.” In the end, I think this is what true leadership might come down to: Lead by example, and understand that your example should be beautifully messy and earnest and true (and highly productive, and as efficient as possible, and ethical and all that, too). Try, as best you can, to remember that the people in your life, whether it’s your staff, your children, or the random strangers that you encounter on your daily journeys, are all dealing with stuff and they want to be treated with kindness and care and respect, just like you do. And if you feel like you might be flunking, just remember to try again.   And I’ll try to remember that, too.

Are you treating others the way you would like to be treated?


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.