Lindsay (not her real name) was a bright, ambitious manager. Recently hired to lead a team at a software company, she was eager to start off in a positive way.
During her interview process, she had met with the group she would lead. She knew they would have a say in who would be hired. And the fact that she was chosen from among several dozen candidates led Lindsay to think, rightly so, that she already had made a good impression on her new team.
Lindsay understood the importance recognizing every member of her team. In her first day on her new job, she came up with what she thought was a good idea. From her human resources manager she requested the birthdays of all eleven of her new direct reports. Her idea was to initiate a birthday tradition. No big deal. Just a simple act of employee recognition. So she thought.
Unfortunately Jerry’s birthday came up during Lindsay’s first week at her new workplace.
To kick off her celebratory tradition, Lindsay brought a small cake into the morning staff meeting. Jerry was surprisingly silent when Lindsay presented him with his cake. He politely forced a smile and thanked her, but did not touch the cake. It became immediately clear to Lindsay that she had done something wrong. The rest of the team looked sheepishly around at each other for a few moments.
Finally one of her team members, Kelly, kicked off the meeting with a point of business. When the meeting concluded, Kelly stayed behind and explained to Lindsay that Jerry belonged to a religious denomination that considered birthday celebrations a form of superstition.
“We celebrate his name day instead,” Kelly explained. “Jerry attends our birthdays out of respect, but he doesn’t take part in the singing and eating.”
Mistakes like Lindsay’s have become more common today in workplaces populated by people from a greater variety of cultures. All the more reason to know more about the people you manage.
In my CoachQuest Leader-as-Coach programs, we urge leaders to apply the Platinum Rule—Treat others as they want to be treated. It goes an important step further than the Golden Rule—Treat others as you would like to be treated. My Leadership Intimacy Primer begins with more about the Platinum Rule.
Leadership Intimacy enables you to know how your employees want to be treated. Treating them that way—applying the Platinum Rule—builds trust. Once you establish a certain level of intimacy with anyone, they begin to trust you and feel safe and comfortable enough to deal honestly and openly with you.
Intimacy via the Platinum Rule clears the way for people to share and contribute their best. By knowing people and their needs intimately, leaders find it easier to help them achieve their personal goals and to align their goals with the strategic goals of the organization.