JUNE 28, 2024

My Leadership Guiding Principle #1: Fairness

I’ve got 4 guiding principles I lead by: fairness, equity, transparency, and consistency. These standards guide me through difficult situations and build trust among those who I’m asking to follow me. In this post, I want to talk about fairness – my first and maybe most important guiding principle for myself.

In my leadership journey, I’ve seen how easily leaders can fall into the trap of favoritism. It’s all too easy to favor those we resonate with, those we appreciate, or those who look like us. I have seen time and again how this familiarity can sow the seeds of bias, leading to an uneven playing field, distrust, gossiping, discord, and worse.

At the heart of favoritism, you’ll often find familiarity. We naturally gravitate towards what we know, what feels comfortable. But in doing so, we may inadvertently overlook, judge, or ignore others who are equally deserving of opportunities.

Let me share a story.

An employee wanted to apply for an internal position in another department. Both her current manager and the new manager in the other department held this employee in very high regard, and because all three thought this was a perfect fit, they short-cut the usual hiring process and the two managers simply told the employee she could have the job.

We have processes and procedures for good reason, and in this case, what the managers did was unfair to two other equally competent managers who were interested in the position but were not even considered for the role.

I asked the managers why they didn’t follow the company process. They said it was too lengthy, that the young woman already had working relationships with the new team, and she would hit the ground running.

I said, You made so many assumptions! You made an assumption that the process would be long, that no one else would hit the ground running, and that you know better than everyone else. You X-ed out other people who should have a voice in the process.

Then it got uncomfortable.

I asked them if they could see how their biases brought them to a decision that was unfair.

I told them that they had to rescind the offer to the young woman.

I had them walk back and follow the proper process, including a job description, to interview all viable candidates, and to include the other two internal employees who were interested in the position.

I also asked them to consider how their actions created a perception of unfairness that would affect the team, the rest of the company, their reputations, and the reputation of the organization.

Course correction doesn’t equate to taking the path of least resistance. It involves engaging in tough conversations, acknowledging missteps, and making things right. In this case, it meant opening up the role to other candidates and ensuring a fair and competitive process – which would produce the best outcomes for all those affected.

To ensure fairness in your leadership practice, consider these three steps:

  1. Adopt the employee’s perspective: This can offer invaluable insights and help circumvent bias.
  2. Recognize and address your biases: Familiarity can lead to bias. Be cognizant of this and make conscious efforts to treat all employees equitably.
  3. Promote transparency and consistency: Make your processes transparent and apply them consistently to all employees.

By ensuring fairness, you can foster trust within your team.

Remember, being fair doesn’t always mean being equal. It means affording everyone the same opportunity to succeed. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to cultivate an environment where everyone feels valued and has an equal shot at success. Fairness might not be the path of least resistance, but it’s undoubtedly the right one.

If you struggle with any of this, you might benefit from Executive Coaching. Give us a call.