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Why a Reputation for Fairness Makes Feedback More Impactful
Team members react differently to leaders who have a reputation for fairness. They resist less, listen more intently, and act on what they learn.
Perceptions of fairness conferred to a leader will color how people process and accept feedback. Even when they don’t agree with the criticisms offered, team members give the benefit of the doubt to fair leaders, presuming their intentions and feedback come from an honest place.
Unfortunately, a reputation for fairness isn’t earned in a day or a week. Leaders who are viewed as fair make the case through their consistent everyday actions and reactions to events and people.
Fairness springs from the consistent display of many qualities: open-mindedness to new ideas, respect for others at all times, rewards and punishments appropriate to the transgression, objective and dispassionate decision-making, and an impartial lens when evaluating people and situations. Fair leaders don’t let their personal biases or self-interest enter into any equation in the workplace.
Above all else, fairness means giving others the treatment they deserve. It doesn’t mean treating everyone alike. Fair leaders give the same amount of feedback, praise, and opportunities to others. They attempt to be evenhanded in everything they do.
Receptivity to anything a leader does or says is the ultimate reward for fairness. We trust fair leaders and believe they operate with good intentions.
When it comes to receiving feedback, team members respond differently to leaders they believe are fair. Rather than debate the criticisms or suggestions they might believe are inaccurate, team members reflect on what fair leaders recommend and take it to heart. They presume there is always a nugget of insight in what fair leaders suggest.
As a result, leaders with a reputation for fairness exert a bigger influence on those they lead, especially when offering criticism and feedback. Their words, gestures, and messages register more deeply with others. Because their credibility is tied to their fairness, people believe what they say.
Earning a reputation for fairness should be high on the list of everyone who aspires to be a better leader. For leaders, the opportunity to demonstrate fairness occurs throughout the day. By keeping the value of fairness front and center, the best leaders earn this reputation with every decision and message.