War is hell – no two ways about it. However, after eight years in the US Army and 850 days spent in the war-torn sands of the Middle East, I learned and validated a valuable leadership lesson. Since those days in the sand, I have started five companies, hosted hundreds of leadership workshops and found this lesson as valuable to me now as it was in the desert.
This leadership lesson was introduced to me as the “Golden Rule.” Of course, the original Golden Rule is to treat others as you would want to be treated, so given that, we adopted a new name — the “Platinum Rule.”
As a young platoon leader, I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. When I arrived, I ran headfirst into a crusty, seasoned platoon sergeant by the name of George Mitchell. On my very first day, Staff Sergeant Mitchell sat me down and said, “Sir, you can make a real difference in the lives of these young soldiers. And if you do it right they will look up to you and follow your lead. The trick is to genuinely care about their lives, have their back and take care of them.”
He said, “If you take care of them, they will take care of you.”
And that is the Platinum Rule – if you take care of your team members, they will take care of you. This conversation has stuck with me for many years, evolving over that time. But the essence of Staff Sergeant Mitchell’s advice proves useful to me every day.
The challenge of bringing your “best self” to work
Some might say the most challenging aspect of leadership is getting team members to bring their “best self” to their daily work. That is, to be 100% engaged and highly productive in their functional area. No leader would complain about a lack of engagement if each team member was bringing their “A-game” every day.
The issue is that it is tough to get revved up day in and day out. Workers are constantly worried about circumstances out of their control, and can feel disconnected from their leaders. These distractions and a lack of inspiration prevents teams from achieving their goals. The consequences of disengaged employees can be fatal for a business. Competitors who set a positive tone and prioritize engagement will outperform those companies who don’t. It’s the Platinum Rule: Those companies that take care of their team members will in turn be taken care of by those team members.
How to do it
So how do we as leaders take care of our “soldiers” and inspire our team? How can we set the conditions for our team to bring their best self? Understanding that every leader has a style all their own (which is an important process on its own), I would suggest finding your own way to adopt some of the following techniques:
- Lead by example. Show that you can be vulnerable, allow your team a glimpse into your personal/family life, show them you can relax and are not always the robot you appear to be during those staff meetings.
- Lead with compassion. Allow a hardworking team member an extra day off to take care of a personal matter, send a handwritten thank you note to a team member for an extra special effort, regularly ask your team members how their family is doing.
- Lead with gratitude. Show your appreciation to team members who represent the company well, recognize team members who deserve a pat on the back (and make a big deal of it!), organize a special event that will bring your team together to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.
What happens so often in the workplace is that we become mechanical as we are focused on a goal, a routine, a comfort zone. It is this day-in and day-out grind that dulls our ambition and desire to improve the lives of those we work with. Renewing that commitment and providing a “wake up” or interruption to the norm can be an effective way to revisit commitments, re-calibrate efforts toward a goal and provide individuals the opportunity to step back, take inventory of their successes and failures, become clear on their goals and their roles and create energy for the work ahead.
So, while the Platinum Rule may seem fairly simple and intuitive, the mark of a true leader is one who is committed to leading with their heart and providing those human encounters for their team to become inspired to bring their best self to achieve extraordinary results.