The #1 Rule for Effective Leadership (at Home and at Work)

Beyond the Golden and Platinum Rules, in our crazy busy world the one rule everyone should follow daily above all is, “Don’t be a jerk.”

When I am frustrated, under pressure or running late, I masterfully rationalize my “jerky” behavior. I act as if my needs are more important than anyone else and I am the only one who is aware of what is going on around me.

I forget that on other occasions, I too act without being aware of my surroundings, rudely cutting in front of people and forgetting to do something I promised. Yet I don’t forgive others for their lapses.

And then there are those times when I think I am right and someone else is a jerk, which then sparks my inner jerk. Most conflicts can be tracked back to the perception that one person acted entitled so the other had to teach them a lesson or settle the score.

I am not going to ask you if you relate to what I’m saying. If you say you don’t, then you are either not human or you are delusional. Often, your inner jerk is triggered in your brain as a means of defense. Or you are so stressed out that you have used up your reserve of adrenalin and are running on cortisol, making your anger “trigger happy.” There are stressed out, crabby people running around everywhere we turn.

Unfortunately, I have met many leaders who would not acknowledge their jerky behavior, claiming their actions were necessary to get results.

The truth is, if you want happy and engaged employees and good relationships outside of work, you need to catch when you are being a jerk. Once you catch yourself, here are some practices to follow if you would like to live up to the #1 Rule:

Don’t yell, snap, bark, or back someone down with your eyes. If you start this, stop. Take a breath and shift your emotions before you open your mouth again. If you can’t find some patience, compassion or a human fallibility to laugh at, go outside for a breath of fresh air or call a friend to vent.

Don’t belittle “the help.” Don’t act as if you are somebody and the clerks, assistants, employees, and other people who walk into your path are nobody special. You won’t get what you need in the long run.

Don’t act as if you are doing anyone a favor. I remember a former boss wondering why the employees weren’t happy after receiving a bonus. The culture was toxic. Money can’t fix that. The true gift you give to others is acknowledging how valuable they are and showing gratitude for the specific things they do, no matter who you are on the food chain. Innovation consultant Deb Mills-Scofield says many leaders treat their employees as employees — nicely and kindly, even generously — but not as humans. “My manager-mentors made it clear that I mattered not just for what I could do,” Mills-Scofield said, “but also for who I was.” It wasn’t about the generous benefits but that her boss insisted she take time off to relax, genuinely showing he cared. He trusted her too. Show that you know we are all on this life boat together.

Look them in the eyes and see the human inside. Remember, the person you are angry at is doing the best he or she can to survive too. You don’t have any idea what their struggles are. Stop and REALLY look at the person you are mad at. A true human connection is both humbling and uplifting.

Smile at the next jerk you see. Demonstrate that you have big light inside you. You just might be adding to world peace as well as your own.


For more tips on how to outsmart your quick-to-react brain, check out the archived Brain Tips at


  1. I’m amazed how many “leaders” don’t understand how they’re showing up in the world.

    All of your tips are common sense though many “leaders” feel they have to come off being dominant.

    As Jim Collins, in his book “Good To Great,” pointed out, the best leaders are humble. They embrace humility which in turn makes them into a leader, followers want to follow and struggle to achieve a shared inspiration.
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