Don’t Play Favorites

don't play favorites at workIt’s human nature to like certain people more than others. But it’s not OK to give preferential treatment to an employee just because you like them. And don’t fool yourself, thinking employees won’t notice this kind of behavior. They always do because they hate it so much. Playing favorites erodes morale and hurts your leadership credibility. So avoid this leadership sin at all costs — treat everyone fairly and consistently, and build a reputation as a leader who doesn’t play favorites.

Many of us know what it’s like to not be someone’s favorite. Often, our experiences are rooted in childhood when we were so intensely impressionable. For example, I went from feeling like a superstar in my second-grade class to an utter failure in third-grade. The teacher inexplicably didn’t like me, and it was a nightmare. Suddenly, I hated school. But here’s the upside: That teacher’s unfairness taught me a golden lesson. Exemplary leaders — be they teachers, coaches, parents, politicians or bosses — don’t play favorites. Instead, they:

Learn to walk the line. When you share common interests or really get along with a direct report, watch out for the tendency to treat that one worker as the boss’ pet. It happens all the time: A boss waltzes in every morning and greets his staff quickly but then lingers at Joe’s desk to talk about the weekend’s big game. After work, Joe and the boss take regular bike rides, an activity that’s not open to other direct reports. Then, they’re spotted having beers after their ride, and everyone is speculating about what they’re discussing, plotting and planning! In no time, Joe’s co-workers feel slighted, inferior and worried — not a good situation. Inside and outside the office, always speak, relate and congregate with all as you would with one and visa versa. Learn to walk the line, maintaining that tricky boss-buddy balance with everyone you lead.

Leverage strengths. If you’ve made sound hiring choices, on-boarding the right people and in the right positions, good for you! Now consistently leverage your direct reports’ strengths such that no one person is outshining another because of YOU and your unfair management, delegation or recognition. In sports, great coaches know that this is one the best secrets to a winning team. Let everyone play the game, exercise their fullest potential, and get focused on the collective win, and then let the chips fall where they may. If you find yourself favoring certain team players, ask yourself why, and correct this problem before it destroys team moral and your credibility as a leader.

Be careful of blame. If something goes wrong, avoid the common urge to point a finger at someone, particularly in front of other team members and without doing due diligence. It’s one of the fastest ways for someone to feel singled out and slighted. It’s simply not fair. Also watch for this same tendency to arise among your direct reports. Your job is to empower them to problem solve, not point fingers.

How can you recognize if you’re playing favorites with a direct report?

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