Why It Is Unfair to Treat Everyone the Same

Should Phil Jackson (once head coach of the Chicago Bulls) have treated Michael Jordan (if you don’t know who he is, this illustration won’t make any sense) the same as the other players on the team?

Some reasoned that Jordan should be treated like the other players; after all, “They are a team. Every player should be treated the same. To not do so would undermine the unity of the team.”

Others reasoned, “No way! He is Michael Jordan!”

I remember hearing sports commentators debate the rightness and fairness of Phil Jackson’s admission that he led each of his players differently—that he treated Michael Jordan differently from another player on the team. Some cried foul, insisting that a coach is responsible to ensure equity. Others insisted that Phil Jackson was displaying wise leadership.

Ken Blanchard would have articulated Jackson’s approach as wise leadership. Blanchard is known for his model of “situational leadership.” He believes that great leaders adjust their leadership to the development level of the people they lead. In other words, it is not fair to lead everyone the same way because every person on the team is different and needs different leadership. Here are eight ways the people on your team are different:

  • Different personalities

God has wonderfully created each person unique, so every person is distinct and different from every other person. No two people on the team you lead are exactly alike, regardless if they score close to one another on a personality test. Direction you give will always be interpreted though the lens of the different personalities on the team.

  • Different roles

The people on your team are in different roles with different focuses. Those roles vary from other roles with unique demands, deadlines, schedules, and priorities. Because the challenges and opportunities of the roles are different, it is unwise to treat each person the same.

  • Different skills

God has gifted each person on your team differently. In terms of general skills, some are more gifted in innovation, some in administration, and some more gifted in communication. Even in broad disciplines (technology, sales, marketing, etc.), there are a plethora of skills, and team members vary in the skills in which they are most gifted.

  • Different levels of competence

Not only are the people on your team gifted differently, with different skill sets, but also they are at varying levels of competence within those skill sets. Some have mastered aspects of their roles, while others have much more growing to do.

  • Different levels of experience

Experience does not always equate with competence. But a person who has little experience in a role or applying a skill surely needs more coaching and hands-on leadership than someone who has been tested and proven over time.

  • Different stages of life

The people on your team are likely at different stages of life. Some may not yet have kids, some may be in the midst of parenting young children, and some may be empty nesters. The different stages of life impact vacation rhythms, prime times for communication, and personal hopes, struggles, and joys that people bring with them.

  • Different length of tenure

Some have been on the team for many years, and some are less seasoned. Those on the team for many years likely more accurately understand the internal culture, how things really get done, and your expectations. Because those who are new have had less exposure, it is unwise to think they would not benefit from more of the leader’s time.

  • Different styles of communication

Some on your team prefer to communicate and process information verbally, others prefer written communication where they can more carefully process and articulate. Some prefer drive-by meetings because “they are spontaneous and filled with great ideas,” while others view those as “disruptive to real work getting done.”

When you consider all of the variables, the people on your team are very different. To treat every person on your team the same dishonors them by ignoring the reality of their uniqueness. This is why Max Depree declared leadership to be an art (not a science), “Leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do.” You must adjust your leadership to those you are leading. Not doing so is just bad leadership.

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