Be unfair – it’s the heavy cost of leadership – but it beats the alternative!

26 06 2015

“I know the world isn’t fair, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” ~Bill Watterson

“The art of a fair compromise is coming up with a solution where everyone is equally unhappy.”  This, or something like it was stated by my negotiation professor in business school.  Whether a parent, teacher, or leader, we are constantly bombarded with having to make a choice on who to “reward” (or punish).  Teachers might have 4 kids raising their hands, and have to pick one to be the “smart one”.  Parents might have to ask one kid to wash the dishes, and another to dry, etc.  Both choosers might try to mitigate that unfairness by picking another kid next time, or swapping out chores, but IN THAT MOMENT, someone is going to think how unfair it is that they did, or didn’t get picked.

As leaders, we also have to make “unfair” choices.  We might have to pick out the employee who’s going to do the really cool (or really difficult) task.  We might give out free shirts to as many staff as we can, and then run out before everybody can get one.  We might have to ask one employee to travel to a conference, while another one feels slighted.  Just like the teachers, the best we can do to make it up is to rotate that favor, as fairly as we can.  The other choice is to not give anyone the task, or the shirt, or ask nobody to go to the conference.  In other words, the alternative to being unfair is doing nothing… not a great alternative.  So, leaders, do what you can to balance the unfairness such that everyone is equally unhappy.  It’s one of the many costs of leadership.

Speaking of Fair…

Fair

Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

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