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Leading for everyone – Share the love around

Written by Stephen Bell, CEO iHR Australia

A point I passionately emphasise in all my leadership programs is that leaders need to lead for everyone, not just a few. That can be difficult especially when we consider that you might not really personally connect with everyone who directly reports to you. The bottom line is that 'like them or not' your personal preferences should not be obvious. Quite clearly we should all be striving for the 'no favourites' policy.

This is especially important in the light of iHR Australia's 2010 APEV survey results. The number one most valued element of culture was that 'managers treat their staff fairly and with respect'. In iHR Asia's 2010 APEV Survey conducted in Thailand the cultural attribute of 'being treated with fairness and respect' was the second most valued attribute for professional employees.  Quite simply, employees around the world value fairness. Although there may be some variance on the definition of fairness between cultures, it can be said that employees who perceive that they are being treated fairly are more likely to be engaged and motivated than those who don't.

Fairness is not some out of date highly legalistic concept embedded in the social or justice system. With more sophisticated societies it seems to become a human need, let alone in many countries, a human right.  The concept, wherever you are in the commercial world includes having an equal opportunity to succeed, being recognised for performing to the required level and being subject to the same rules and regulations as others.  From a leadership perspective alone, you can also add the ideas of having equal access to and attention from a leader.  Nepotism and corruption are less tolerated and ultimately will alienate those who act in that way.

When we don't lead for all team members the results are problematic for the leader, not just for the employees. It means that some people will feel connected to us and others won't. The employees that are not connected to us become a blind spot. They won't talk to us about matters that they are unhappy with or concerned about and hence, more likely to play their dissatisfactions out in an unhealthy manner. For example, rumour mongering, 'presenteeism' or a lack of discretionary effort.  Leaders will also find themselves becoming increasingly reliant on their 'favourites' to get things done placing an increasing pressure on fewer bodies. Our job as leaders and coaches is to build a depth of talent as opposed to creating an unhealthy reliance on high performers who should be constantly prepared for their next challenge.

Things to Do

  • With those whom you have close friendships with, take the time to explain that when at work you need to be seen as fair to everyone and not to have favourites.  Explain the results of surveys that indicate that people expect to be treated fairly by their manager.
  • Get to know something that is important to all those who work directly work for you. It's good to know such things as their favourite football team, the fact that their daughter is completing her final year of school or that they have a sick parent. These are connection points and an indicator we are interested in everybody.  Don't leave out the introverts.  I know you can't force personal information out of everyone, but it is amazing how much consistent 'hellos' help.
  • At the team lunch, dinner or even team meeting move around the table (or room) and don't just sit with the people you naturally connect with. Perhaps pick out four points around the table and do some mingling.
  • Share around the good jobs.  I know you have your stars and there are people that you trust will do that task or project right time, first time.  If that person is always getting the 'good jobs' then you will create division and resentment. Of course elite performers should be rewarded, but not at the expense of developing the depth and skills of the wider work force.
  • Share the Recognition; recognition should be given when and where it's due.  However, when there is an opportunity to build confidence, take it!

Things Not to Do

  • DO NOT constantly take the same one or two individuals into your office or work space and indulge in private jokes or banter.
  • DO NOT allow star performers to behave badly because they are star performers.  Team rules are team rules and courageous leaders take a stand on poor behaviour.
  • DO NOT concentrate on poor performance and behaviour at the expense of having positive interactions with those who are performing, doing their job properly and setting the example for others.  How often we managers find ourselves indulging in hours of strategy and action to manage a non-performer at the expense of recognising those who are doing it well.
  • DO NOT build close friendships simply on the basis of working together.  Good friendships are built out of a natural affinity and will develop on their own accord.  If you want to spend personal time with a reporting employee, do so but without alienating the rest of the team with Monday morning discussions about what a great weekend you had together.  Don't forget the debrief with your new friend about leading for everyone in the team.
  • DO NOT go out drinking and socialising with staff as a means of gaining connection.  The connection should begin at the workplace.  If an affinity of great magnitude grows, play it out well and truly outside the workplace.
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