6 Tips to Increase Your Reputation as a Fair Leader

Throughout my years as an executive coach, I’ve learned that scoring low in the area of fairness on a 360 Leadership Development Assessment prompts the same response from just about every leader: disagreement and/or astonishment. Some of this may stem from the fact that leaders feel that their core values have been attacked when others describe them as unfair. One leader said to me, “Unfair…how can anyone say that? That’s like telling me I’m dishonest or lacking in integrity.”

While the definition of fairness might vary from person to person, here are some behaviors of unfair leaders, as shared by employees we’ve interviewed throughout the years:

  • Overlooking bad behaviors in some employees while holding others accountable
  • Withholding honest feedback from team members who aren’t receptive to feedback
  • Being personal friends with some members of the team
  • Inviting only certain employees to happy hours or other gatherings outside of work
  • Sharing information with some employees and not others
  • Giving only some team members desirable projects and not others
  • Spending quality time with some employees, while making it a challenge for other employees on the team to meet with the leader


Whether you’re an organization leader or a parent, treating everyone consistently and fairly is a challenge. If everyone was equally as agreeable, treating everyone fairly would be a lot easier.


The following 6 tips will help you do the right thing and increase your reputation as a fair leader:


Be friendly, be caring…but don’t be friends with your direct reports: This is a point that many of our clients like to debate. They strongly feel that leaders can be friends with direct reports and that the other employees should just accept that fact. I’d beg to differ. You should never be friends with your direct reports because, when you are, it becomes even more difficult to make the right business decisions. With that said, you should be friendly and caring to each one of your direct reports and hopefully, they will return the favor. Now, for those of you who still think that being friends with employees is a positive, I encourage you to pursue that friendship because that will help us build our consulting practice. Over the years, I’ve noticed that leaders who are friends with their direct reports, tend to need a lot more consulting support to navigate leadership’s white waters.


Recognize that equal and fair are two different issues: Some of your direct reports may take more of your time to coach and mentor. That means that your time is not divided up equally among all your team members. Regardless of time spent, you’re still showing fairness because you remain equally committed to each team member’s success.


Be consistent: If you are going to go to lunch with one employee, invite other employees along or rotate so you take every team member out to lunch.


Hold all team members accountable: Having different standards for different team members will make others perceive you as unfair. This becomes especially apparent when some team members are allowed benefits and rewards that others, with similar achievements, are not. And it can really backfire on you when poor performers are allowed to slide.


Welcome difficult or challenging feedback: If you don’t welcome feedback or only hang out with the people who tell you what you want to hear (aka brown-nosers), you risk being seen as unfair.


Give honest credit and recognition: Difficult team members make it easy to forgo giving positive feedback. When someone does great work, makes a good suggestion, or makes a positive contribution to the team’s success, a fair leader provides the positive feedback and finds a reason to celebrate.


Even if your employees already view you as the fairest leader of them all, the six tips outlined above will help build better working relationships not only between yourself and your employees, but between each team member.

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