Fair Does Not Mean The Same

Not too long ago, I was coaching a client concerned that she wasn’t being fair enough to all of her direct reports. When I asked her what fair looked like, she replied each direct report would receive the same training and specific resources for development. This initial thought makes sense. Parents gave each sibling the same type of candy and clothes in childhood. There are few opportunities as we grow into adulthood where the demonstration of “fair” isn’t equated to “the same.”

However, in leadership development, fairness doesn’t mean the same. The same for everyone can be harmful. In a diverse workplace, sameness can offer one direct report the necessary knowledge and skill for advancement. That same approach will not benefit another direct report with the demonstrated knowledge and skill for the same advancement. Instead, fairness in leadership development means offering each direct report what they need to take advantage of the opportunities available to everyone.

Instead, fairness in leadership development means offering each direct report what they need to take advantage of the opportunities available to everyone.

For example, Employees A and B are Tier 3 and seeking to advance to Tier 2. Tier 2 is a first-line leadership position that turns Tier 3 individual contributors into first-line leaders of 3 direct reports. Employee A has a military background with over ten years of experience as a people manager and demonstrated advanced knowledge in technical skills. Employee A also has demonstrated consistent leadership ability and aptitude. Employee B has no people management experience and processes weak technological skills.

“Fair” is not the “same” regarding leadership development.

Since the goal is to help both Employee A and B reach the same goal of advancement to Tier 2, the urge is to submit both employees to the same training. However, that could easily be a waste of money and ultimately kill the morale of Employee A. Employee A has leadership and advanced technical knowledge. Offer Employee A training that closes leadership and skills gaps, which can be in the form of coaching, mentorship, informal training, or formal training on a specific skill. Offer Employee B the complete leadership program after receiving training to close the skills gap and demonstrate they are consistently proficient. These individualized approaches addressed each employee’s need to compete for Tier 2 advancement.

“Fair” is not the “same” regarding leadership development.

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