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What Is the Platinum Rule and How Can Leaders Apply It? - HRDQ

What Is the Platinum Rule and How Can Leaders Apply It?

As a leader in your organization, it falls on you to make decisions, delegate tasks, set and achieve challenging goals, and inspire your team to succeed. One of the most critical aspects of success as a leader is determining your ideal leadership style. However, without empathy for how your team members are best led, it can create a lot of resistance in your workplace.

Chances are, you weren't born into a leadership position but worked your way up through persistence, commitment, hard work, and determination. Along the way, you've likely heard about the importance of employing the golden rule with clients, co-workers, and employees.

However, does the golden rule still hold up in the modern business environment? A variation of the golden rule, the platinum rule, has been proposed as a more effective maxim to help guide individuals in every business interaction.

What is the platinum rule, and how can you apply it as a leader in your organization?

What Is the Golden Rule?

The golden rule is an idea that can be traced back millennia and found in cultures worldwide. Always professing something along the lines of "treat others the way you'd like to be treated," there's a good chance you remember this rule being expressed to you back in your elementary school days.

According to the English philosopher Simon Blackburn, nearly every ethical and religious tradition has some form of the golden rule. It is thought that the earliest iteration of the golden rule can be found in ancient Egypt, but the notion is also present in the texts of ancient Greece, Persia, and Rome.

Different religious traditions treat this maxim differently, but, in some cases, it can be considered an ethic of reciprocity.

Applying The Golden Rule

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much worth criticizing about this rule. After all, it recognizes that we all want to be treated well and have a responsibility to treat others with the same respect we hope to receive. However, thinkers as profound as Kant and Nietzche have objected to the golden rule, and a new idea has been proposed in the modern era to help correct some of its shortcomings.

Applying the golden rule as a leader is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when you treat your team the way you would want to be treated and lead them the way you would want to be led, it's possible that you aren't maximizing the unique strengths of each member of your team. 

What Is the Platinum Rule?

As opposed to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," as the golden rule states, the platinum rule asks you to "do unto others, wherever possible, as they would want to be done to them."

This rule helps to deal with one of the biggest problems posed by the golden rule. The old gold maxim does no harm so long as everyone involved in a situation shares the same values and wants to be treated the same way. But what happens if people have different preferences, values, and expectations? Suddenly, the golden rule goes from being received as an empathetic approach to almost seeming a bit self-centered and off-base.

Of course, if you follow the golden rule as a leader, you will probably be better off than if you apply neither of these concepts. However, the modern business environment demands going one step further by treating others the way they want to be treated, rather than how you would want to be treated.

Meeting With Team

It's all too common for leaders in a company to lead the way they would want to be led. However, it can be quite a bit more practical to lead in a way that fits your team's preferences, personalities, and needs.

When you apply the platinum rule as a leader, you recognize and respect that different team members each have their strengths and weaknesses. Each individual has their ideal working environment, communication style, and working style. This perspective means that each team member might benefit from a personalized leadership style rather than one overarching style that reflects your preferences, personality, and strengths.

Why Use the Platinum Rule Instead of the Golden Rule?

While there is much to be gained from using the golden rule in business and personal settings, it can fall short in our modern environment. For example, if you are a thick-skinned boss who values criticism, some of your more sensitive employees might find your application of the golden rule to be a bit harsh. On the other hand, if you are a more introverted and thoughtful leader, some of your more extroverted team members might feel like they can't connect with you.

Leader Speaking With Employee

By applying the platinum rule, you work to become aware of how others wish to be treated and put in the work to act accordingly. When your employees recognize that you understand their communication and work style, you'll find that morale and satisfaction increase in the workplace. 

Several studies have found that people feel happier and healthier when they feel understood, and using the platinum rule is an ideal way to show your team members that they are both seen and heard. This can also help your business thrive, considering that workers are thirteen percent more productive when they are happy, and healthier employees are generally more productive.

How Can Leaders Apply the Platinum Rule?

Applying The Platinum Rule

The platinum rule might have a nice ring to it and look good on a motivational poster, but it isn't worth much if you don't have tangible ways to apply it to your leadership style. While it can take some time to transition to this way of thinking, especially if you've been used to applying the golden rule, you'll find that building empathy for your team and leading them each in a way that works for them has increasing returns over time.

Know Yourself and Know Your Team

The first step to applying the platinum rule as a leader is understanding your ideal leadership style while also getting to know your team's preferences. There is no shortcut in this regard – you need to pay attention to your employees and take note of their personalities and work styles with an empathetic rather than critical lens.

Before you jump into getting to know your team, though, you have to know yourself. What is your leadership style? Where are your strengths, and where are your trouble spots?

Once you have examined your preferences, strengths, weaknesses, and style, you can then look to see how that fits in with the needs of your team.

As you get to know your team, you'll want to pay attention to some specific aspects of each person's work preferences, such as:

  • Is this team member more extroverted or more introverted?
  • What is each team member's preferred communication method? For example, do they like to communicate face-to-face, on the phone, through text, or via email?
  • What are the strengths that each team member brings to your company?
  • Which team members prefer to have a steady routine and get stressed in the face of too much change? Conversely, which team members seek new challenges and get bored with too much consistency?

Understanding which of your team members are more extroverted and which are more introverted can be an incredibly valuable piece of information. From this, you can understand the work environment that helps each employee thrive.

Speaking With Team Members

For example, more extroverted people might feel stifled by a quiet, uptight office. They also might struggle to feel connected if your organization primarily works remotely. For these employees, you might want to create opportunities for them to build connections with their teammates, even if it's in the digital space.

On the other hand, introverts might have a hard time feeling comfortable and being productive in an open, distraction-filled workspace. You might consider creating spaces where they can work in a more focused way away from an open office setting or giving them the option to work remotely for a portion of the week.

Similarly, you might find that some of your more introverted employees are less likely to give feedback or present ideas in a group setting, even if they do have valuable thoughts to contribute. You might consider purposefully seeking out the opinions of some of your quieter employees and offering them a relaxed and non-rushed environment in which to present their answers.

Some team members might thrive with new opportunities and challenges, while others might rely on a routine. For the former camp, you can focus on giving them projects that help them continue to grow in their work and responsibilities. For the latter, allow them to focus on what they do best rather than constantly throwing them curveballs.

Develop Your Listening Skills and Create Space for Feedback

One of the easiest ways to get to know your team and learn what works best for them in the office is by creating space for open communication. Every time you address your team with directions, a new company goal, or any other kind of communication, focus on actively listening to see how they are responding. This is a valuable space where you can learn whether you are hitting the mark or making some employees uncomfortable, uncertain, or otherwise displeased.

Listening To Feedback

It's particularly essential to be open to feedback at the time when most of us naturally want to back away– when there might be discomfort or embarrassment. For example, maybe you make a joke that not only doesn't land, but also seems to have been received differently than you intended. It's all too easy to dismiss other people's reactions as not being able to "take a joke," but, in a leadership position, you must follow up with the potential offended parties and apologize if it's appropriate to do so.

By displaying your willingness to be empathetic in this regard, you'll likely find that your team has more respect for you in your leadership role.

Find and Use the Best Communication Method

One of the best ways to set up your workplace for success is to understand each employee's preferred method of communication. For example, some people might work best through email, while others prefer phone calls, text messages, or in-person communication.

Virtually Communicating With Team

As a leader, you will have a communication style that suits you best. However, it's in the team's best interest that you can be flexible and communicate with your employees based on their preferences rather than yours. You'll find that everything runs much more smoothly when your team doesn't run into walls communicating in an unnatural or uncomfortable way for them. After all, communication is an essential part of a successful business.

Learn to Focus on Your Team's Strengths

When you went through the hiring process, you likely asked each individual their strengths and weaknesses. As you've had time to learn more about them as you've been working together, you have a more expanded knowledge base to work from. It's all too common for annual reviews to focus on employees' weaknesses rather than their strengths. Instead, you might consider helping each employee channel their energy in ways that allow them to utilize their points of strength.

Effectively Working Team

If you have an employee that struggles with a particular part of their job, you can certainly work to help them become more capable in that specific task or area. However, you might also think about shifting what their responsibilities consist of to further strengthen the parts of their job where they have the most room to grow and thrive.

Get Yourself In the Right Mindset to Be an Effective Leader

Effective Team Leader

Every workplace and team of employees will have its own unique set of strengths and challenges. While it's easy to focus on our own careers, it's essential to recognize that leaders are limited in their success by their team's success. Therefore, your focus should be to help elevate your employees, understand how they work best, and create a functional system that highlights everyone's strongest characteristics.

Is It Time for You to Further Define Your Leadership Style?

Applying the platinum rule in leadership means that you try to lead people the way they want to be led. This is opposed to the idea that you should lead people the way you would want to be led, as the golden rule dictates. Instead, the platinum rule focuses on understanding the unique differences between your employees and recognizing that the same leadership style might not work for everyone.

Regardless of which of these maxims you choose to follow as a leader, the first step is understanding your leadership style. When you learn about your strengths, trouble spots, and personal style, you can be more effective, consistent, and inspiring to your team.

Leader of Team

For this reason, we've created What's My Leadership Style. As a part of our best-selling HRDQ Style Suite, you can use this tool to identify and gain more awareness of your leadership style. Learning more about your leadership behavior will empower you to fine-tune your leadership style to best suit your team's needs to ensure that your organization thrives.

Do you have any questions about the platinum rule or how you, as a leader, can apply it in your daily operations? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to every question we receive and would be more than happy to assist you however we possibly can!

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.