Fairness

Much is written about Trust in leadership. Trust has many facets.

Here’s one: Fairness.

Fairness is a polite word with powerful synonyms: integrity, decorum, goodness, honor, duty, humanity, decency, give and take.

And its antonyms pack a real punch: deception, bias, falsehood, immoral, lying, rudeness, disregard, disrespect, wrong.

There are always occasional life-isn’t-fair situations. In this case, I’m talking about chronic bias, partiality and imbalance of fairness as a pattern that creeps into organizations or business relationships.

Fairness is defined as equal application of values. It’s root word is rendered as “what is right”. There is no distinction between what is right and fairness.

For those on the receiving end, the documentary, “Monkey Puzzle” confirmed how hard-wired fairness is in all of us. When a monkey’s companion received a tastier or larger food reward for performing an identical task, the first monkey became agitated, refused food and chose to go hungry rather than accept the lesser reward.

Fair treatment outranks self-interest.

Humans have a similar built-in mechanism. Studies show that people revolt, act out and subtly ‘punish’ leaders who treat them unfairly. Journalist and political commentator Brit Hume said, “Fairness is not an attitude. It’s a professional skill that must be developed and exercised.”

When there are double-standards in an organization–one set of rules for executives, another set of rules for everyone else–people notice. They become frustrated and distracted.

As the CEO, it would be wise to think honestly and deeply on this topic. Self-scrutinize whether you promote fair and consistent application of values, or whether you overlook or make excuses for violators in your organization’s high places. Do you turn a blind eye to avoid uncomfortable and hard decisions with your direct reports when warranted? Do you inconsistently and selectively apply values while subjecting others to the deflating experiences of double standards?

If Yes, it is imperative to understand that you may have indeed earned ‘punishment’ from others in covert forms as expressions of their mistrust. Stop blaming them and hold yourself accountable first. Take another look at the synonyms and antonyms to fairness above. Decide to take steps to change, grow and stand tall as a leader.

Fairness may not be as sexy as wielding power but in the end, the path to gaining, maintaining and recovering Trust from others is paved in it.

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