Are Good Leaders Equal or Fair?
Fairness and equality in the workplace go hand-in-hand, but not in the way many social critics believe.
Both play a critical role in how leaders create a productive workplace, but they are distinct ideals that get applied with precision by good leaders.
For starters, no one wants to work in an organization that is equal, including those that think they do.
Imagine a workplace where everyone receives the same recognition, the same titles, and the same compensation irrespective of their experience or what they contribute to the success of the team.
That’s what equal means.
Rewarding people equally without regard to the quality of the work they produce is a surefire way to destroy the desire for people to excel. No one wants to work in an organization where everyone is rewarded equally.
But they do want to be in a workplace where everyone is treated and respected equally. That is an important distinction.
Equal treatment is the goal of all great leaders. In the workplace, this means believing all ideas, people, and viewpoints are worthy of consideration.
More to the point, it means that the opportunity to excel is equal, that everyone has a voice and an ability to influence others, and team members are included in the decisions that affect them.
The best leaders refuse to reward equally, but insist on fair and equal treatment. In the words of legendary coach John Wooden, “Fairness is giving all people the treatment they earn and deserve. It doesn’t mean treating everyone alike.”
In contrast to equal consideration, great leaders not only strive to treat people equally, but they also work exceedingly hard to be fair.
Fair leaders treat people and situations in a reasonable way by applying clear standards and then engaging in objective, impartial, and unbiased decisions. Leaders who strive to be fair will balance conflicting interests and attempt to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone.
For the best leaders, equality and fairness are yoked together to the point of being nearly indistinguishable. That’s because fairness is virtually impossible to achieve without equal treatment and respect. Leaders who create a workplace where fairness and equal respect thrive find themselves among colleagues who feel a sense of belonging and goodwill.
From that vantage, anything is possible, including exceptional results.