As it turns out, there is a connection between doing the right thing and the Golden Rule.
Donald Pfaff has proven that we are naturally programmed to treat others as we’d like to be treated ourselves. He heads the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University, and is the author of “The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule.”
We are programmed to care. We naturally want to do the right thing.
- As employees, we are drawn to companies that allow us to do so.
- As customers, we become emotionally attached to companies who consider our lives when they make decisions.
Pfaff’s findings tell us altruism is a hardwired function of the human brain. We take altruistic actions because a neural mechanism leads us naturally down this path. This creates a tendency for serving the best interest of others. It’s our internal wiring for being empathetic—for treating others like we’d like to be treated ourselves.
Pfaff tells the story of a man who saw someone fall onto the tracks of a New York City subway. On instinct, the man jumped into the well of the tracks, hoisted the stranger onto his back, and carried him to the edge of the platform to be lifted out.
- Why did he do it?
- What made a man risk his life for a stranger, someone he did not know?
The man did what came naturally. His actions were congruent with his instinct to jump in and save the man stranded in the tracks. He was programmed to do the right thing and he did it.
We take that instinct to do the right thing with us to work, except that instead of jumping onto tracks, we want to exercise our instincts for making decisions that are right for customers and co-workers. Beloved companies let their employees exercise that natural instinct. It’s part of daily decision making to do what’s right. It’s decision-making that is enabled, heralded, and celebrated—not challenged, impeded, or stopped.
University of Zurich researchers agree that we are “wired” to take the altruistic path. They revealed that a small area in the brain—in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (or DLPFC) is responsible for suppressing natural selfish tendencies. It’s crucial to our ability to assess fairness and balance that with our own selfish and materialistic impulses.
Congruence of heart and habit form the backbone of beloved companies. Consistency of knowing and feeling what is right, paired with decision making that yields to the natural tendencies firing inside us, makes these companies beloved inside and out. What drives their decisions is the beating heart. It’s the measure of how much the right cortex of the brain is present around the conference table.
Congruence of heart and habit enables beloved companies to make uncommon decisions by considering the needs and emotions of customers. In Pfaff’s research, the man who jumped on to the subway tracks took an altruistic action because it was done to truly help someone else. The needs of the man who had fallen on the tracks came first. When companies make decisions considering customer needs, often before their own, they do what comes naturally. And that draws customers to them. It creates an emotional bond. It grows their business.
A Beloved Company Decision Making Litmus Test
Think of a trying time in your business recently.
- Was the conclusion reached – congruent with how you would act in your personal life?
- Did the “Golden Rule” guide the outcome?
- Were business goals the guiding force?
- How did you communicate to employees why you made the decision you did?
- Did you earn the right to employee pride as a result?
- Did you give them behaviors to model?
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