Accountable Leadership Doesn’t Play Favorites

A leadership lesson from a two-year old.

A while back, we had a birthday party for my two-year-old granddaughter Sophy. As it unfolded, I was privileged to observe a powerful object lesson for leaders.

As the birthday girl, Sophy was sitting at the head of the table. She happened to notice that she had one of her grandmothers sitting immediately to her right. When Sophy noticed that, she smiled and reached out to hold her grandmother’s hand. Of course, her grandmother was delighted to hold Sophy’s hand on her birthday.

Just then, Sophy looked over to the other side of the table and noticed that her other grandmother was seated on her left! I could see the wheels turning inside her two-year-old mind. She realized that she had shared a gesture of love with one grandmother by reaching out for her hand … and now she didn’t want the other grandmother to feel left out. So what did she do? The instant Sophy realized there was the possibility of hurting her second grandmother’s feelings, she reached out for that grandmother’s hand! And of course her second grandmother was eager to reciprocate that gesture of love and caring. Sophy was looking for a way to connect with both of them. And she found it!

So where’s the lesson for leaders? I hope it’s jumping out at you. But just in case it isn’t…

Notice that Sophy wasn’t showing any kind of favoritism.

She was making a point of treating both people with the same level of love and respect. Isn’t that awesome? Shouldn’t we all be following that example?

Pat Hickman, chairman and CEO of Happy State Bank, once said to me, about his organization, “Life is unfair … but within these four walls, the four walls of this business, it had better be fair!”

His point was vitally important. You can’t show favoritism in your business. You can’t favor one member of your team over another. You have to be committed to all your people equally. If the relationship is worth protecting – and it is – then the workplace where that relationship plays out had better not be about playing favorites. .

A little kid will notice instantly when you treat one person differently than the other. People notice instantly when the boss is playing favorites. If I as the leader am giving one person all the best assignments, and dumping all the junk on the desk of someone else who has a similar job and similar talents, how long is it going to take for someone to notice that and start resenting it?

Not long!

If somebody gets treated differently because of the way they look or where they went to school or the length of her skirt or whatever, you are going to have problems. You can’t do that. Being committed to not playing favorites is part of a larger commitment that I call “It’s all of us.” Great leaders hold themselves accountable for honoring that commitment.

If you’ve got one person in the department that you’re clearly favoring over everybody else, then you’re not committed to “it’s all of us,” and there are going to be major problems on your team.

As soon as favoritism enters into the relationship, you’re damaging the team. You’re eliminating your commitment to fairness … and you’re eliminating the possibility of accountability from your team … because you’re not demonstrating accountability to others!

Sophy figured that out during her birthday party. I think it’s something every leader should figure out!


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