“Let’s begin with a new and improved rule. For leaders, the rule is to treat others kindly with appropriate fairness.” - Dr. Todd Dewett

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Right? It’s considered by many a universal truth across different religions and philosophies, but I’m not sure it always makes sense. In fact, the more I think about it, the less it makes sense.

First of all, to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you suggests that everyone has the same preferences and desires. This is of course not the case at all. As a consequence, for many observers, the meaning of the phrase has shifted over time to represent a basic call for kindness.

I fully and totally support a call for kindness as a general idea. Whether wearing my entrepreneur hat, my academic hat, or just my citizen hat – that is a darn good idea. We need more kindness.

One last hat, however, doesn’t seem to fit. It’s my organizational expert hat. When I think about leaders trying to maximize what’s possible at work, the golden rule is somewhat incongruent with the ideals they must uphold.

The rule for leaders is to do unto others based on their behaviors and performance. People are hired, expectations are clarified, goals are set, and then performance is monitored. People should be treated in a manner that helps them move towards behavioral expectations and goal achievement.

2016 Photo of Dr. Todd Dewett on HRExaminer.com

Dr. Todd Dewett | Founding member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

This might include difficult or negative feedback, depriving them of certain outcomes afforded others (e.g., promotion, certain project roles), or removal of certain duties or perks. From this perspective, it almost seems that to follow the golden rule is to neglect your duties as a leader. Your goal is to give them what they need to improve, not just basic kindness – and sometimes what they need doesn’t fit the classic definition of kindness.

Sure, you can suggest that all of your interactions with employees must be defined by a general kindness, but we need to make sure the words we are using are properly defined. Let’s begin with a new and improved rule. For leaders, the rule is to treat others kindly with appropriate fairness.

Kindly is defined here as positive and congenial, but honest and candid as needed. This definition allows us to focus more on the outcomes to be attained, as opposed to the nature of any single interaction. Fairness is defined by transparency and equal opportunity to excel. It is not defined as the equal distribution of available outcomes.

Leaders must be properly kind and fair. All that we do at work should be wrapped in a kindness that exudes positivity but allows for moments of frank conversation, and a fairness that recognizes the full range of performance outcomes. That’s a golden rule that might maximize what your team is capable of achieving.