How Leaders Misunderstand the Golden Rule

By | March 8, 2019

[March 8, 2019] Leaders generally do not understand the Golden Rule we see expressed in nearly all religions, especially in Christianity and Judaism. It often read as treating others with kindness and compassion. However, that interpretation is both shallow and misleading.

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” – King James Version (KJV) Matthew 7:12 Context1

At the end of this article is the full context of this quote. Re-reading it may give a hint to why I say that leaders don’t understand the Golden Rule.

Two points: First, imagine, if you will, that everything that could possibly be right in your life is happening. You are treating yourself properly; physically, spiritually, intellectually, socially, and familially. Then put all your effort to extend that courtesy to everyone else.2 That is what the Golden Rule is about.

Second, imagine if we were to gather up all the accumulated wisdom learned since the first man walked the Earth and manifested this into codified moral law (including rules and regulations). Those leaders who are given the authority to oversee the law are inherently responsible to ensure the process for the maintenance of the moral law. This is why leadership is so keenly important and why rules must be made with this insight.

Optimize your own being first and then work to do the same for everyone around you. This idea is not only at the core of man-made law but at the level of the process that updates the law. Leaders are those that are deeply involved in this process. It is expected that they be highly moral and outwardly focused.

In my leadership blog, I’ve repeatedly noted that the best leaders are those that care for others. For without this caring, a leader has no standing for those he may lead. Any leader who does not do all in their power to make extend “good” to others is a leader without moral standing and thus has rejected the responsibility to do moral things.

Leaders believe that the Golden Rule is simply being nice and compassionate to others. This is wrong. It is treating others with the knowledge that what is good is based on moral principles and not on feelings.


  1. Matthew 7:12 Context: 9Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? 10Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? 12Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. 13Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. 15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
  2. Anyone who attempts to do so will discover quickly that this is exceedingly difficult a task. Psychologists are fond of saying that before we do anything to the outside world, we should get our own houses in order.




Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “How Leaders Misunderstand the Golden Rule

  1. Bryan Lee

    You can make a person too dependent upon you (and others) by being too compassionate. This is true if you simply give them money and things. They never develop fully as functioning humans in a complex, modern society. Give them a fish every day and you get a dependent stooge. Teach them to fish and you get an independent person.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      This is where American politicians have gone off into never-never land. They want to “give” to the poor but refuse to be burdened by their responsibility to “teach” and “encourage” them to be independent individuals. Many of these politicians want them to be dependent so the politician can gain votes and power.

  2. Lady Hawk

    “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is from an old Chinese proverb. It is most apt in helping explain the Golden Rule. Make sure you are a good person before working to help others be good also.

  3. Kenny Foster

    I was taught the Golden Rule meant you must have ‘compassion’ for other people and this was the ultimate achievement of humans. Compassion showed that you are morally superior to everyone else and this was a good feeling. We were told it was based on the teachings of God and the State. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is why so many people are off-the-rails intellectually and emotionally from what is truly good and honorable.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Sad, but true! I think you identified the weakness in the PC movement. Well done!

    2. lydia truman

      Hi Kenny. Good analysis. This is especially true of young people in America. They’ve been told that if they are not compassionate, they are somehow inferior. But compassion means more than just talking a good game, it means doing something good for the right reasons.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      Thank you Lynn. I read it based on your recommendation. Really good.

    2. Gil Johnson

      The “Cold War” film is a subtle but devastating critique of the socialist phenomenon.

    3. Fred Weber

      A quote from the article that I found most useful.
      “Wiktor ends up in Paris, where he plays piano at a jazz club and scores films. It is here that the contrast between socialism and democracy is most explicit. The music in Poland alternates between ethnography and propaganda, while France is alive with the improvisations of jazz and the boisterousness of rock ‘n’ roll. The audiences in Warsaw Pact nations are drab, monotone, devoid of eccentricity or novelty in favor of an ethnicized socialist ideal. In Paris, the music venues are filled with bohemians and servicemen, with men and women of European, American, African, and Japanese descent. However, the uncertainty and turbulence to life in democratic capitalist nations can be both invigorating and unsettling.”

      1. Watson Bell

        Socialism means the death of the individual spirit. That is why communism and socialism is a drab, obnoxious ideology.

  4. Max Foster

    It is common, as cultures change (and they do change), for the meanings of stories and events to be re-interpreted and thus evolve into something else. We see this with the Golden Rule as it is oversimplified and devalued at the same time. Was this done on purpose or was it due to intellectual laziness, I cannot say because no one knows. We must be always diligent to ensure our education includes the deepest of meanings. In that way, we become better over time and continue to remember those who have helped our society achieve a greater understanding of humankind.

    1. Albert Ayer

      As you normally do Max, you have helped me better understand the direction of our culture. Trends do matter. This is a case where we should do our best to see that the deeper, religious meaning is not lost.

    2. Dale Paul Fox

      This is what happens when you have a bunch of SJWs in our schools. They devalue anything related to our religious roots but do so at our peril.

    3. Greg Heyman

      Freedom is not free. Sometimes it means fighting back and this is just one more on my list to correct people who inadvertently or purposely fall away from lessons of the past.


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