We sometimes think of fairness and equality as the same thing, and even with the best intentions, we will lead ineffectively, if we get the two confused.
Equality is about being the same in quality, status, and value while being fair is your unbiased and impartial approach to people. Everyone deserves to be heard and invested in. In order to be truly fair, how you support and invest in others should be different for each person.
Assess and dial into their individual needs
In order to lead fairly, you’ve got to have a good understanding of your team. You need to know them fairly well on a personal level and have a good grasp of what they excel at and what they need to work on in order to grow in their career. Some companies lean into talent calibrations that access performance and potential in order to highlight a person’s development needs. Great smaller companies often take the same approach but with more of a focus on one-on-ones to determine what the person’s needs are.
Once you determine your people’s needs, you’ll find just how different they are. That’s ok! In order to lead fairly, you’ll need to invest in those needs which means you’ll approach people differently. For your high performer, you’ll likely give them stretch assignments, push their knowledge and expertise, and provide them a chance to grow their influence. For the low performer, it’s about equipping them to get back on track with expectations and standards. You may need to slow down and lead with more empathy here. Perhaps the lower performance has to do with a personal hardship that they are currently going through and need help to work through it.
Don’t forget the top (or the middle) for the bottom
As leaders, we are tasked with fixing problems in order to make our teams successful. It’s on us to see our goals come to life. As part of that charge, we sometimes over-focus on our lowest performers and problem children. What happens here, is that we leave our top performers alone because they are our best and are usually self-directed in their own personal leadership.
Remember to be fair with your time. Your best people still need to see and hear from you. They want to feel valued in what they do and validated in the work outcomes that they produce. Leaving this group to themselves while you focus solely on your bottom people will lead to this group’s dis-engagement and will cause some of your best people to leave.
Rember your middle people as well! This group makes up the backbone of your larger team or organization. We need people in the middle. I call them the engine of the company because we need them to stay around a long time and they produce most of the work needed to hit our goals. Be sure to check in with this group as well and make sure they feel valued and included. Just because they may not want to climb a ladder in additional responsibility, doesn’t mean that they should be neglected.
Make yourself available to all
We know from unconscious bias (EP 284, 285) that we are drawn to people that we have an affinity for both because of shared personal interests and history as well as how they perform on the team. Understand while you may be spending time with everyone on your team, you make not be making yourself available to all of them.
Build trust with everyone, so that they feel comfortable coming to you with a need. Lean into the power of active listening and let go of any preconceived notions that you may have about the person or the reason behind why they are there. Being fair in availability means that you are giving everyone a chance to be listened to. This may mean that you need to be creative in scheduling if don’t normally see a segment of your team or have a standard open block of time for drop-ins and questions.
Fairness does not mean the same. In fact, if you treated everyone the same, it wouldn’t be fair to your team. Pull out and invest in those individual needs, make sure you are investing in all of your people, and that you are available to all of your team to connect and grow together.
Make a better tomorrow.