Why is it a problem that leaders have favourites on the team? Favourites of good leaders are invariably good people who do good work. Those, who cannot stomach the idea, need to work on their maturity quotient!
Good leaders always have favourites on the team. It shows up everywhere. Be it the upward feedback results, leadership workshops or water cooler conversations.
Favourites are mostly top performers, consistent performers and honest, smart workers. Sometimes, even some average performers who yearn to learn and thus, cheerfully reach out for additional work and consistently meet deadlines. Exclude the poor performers who get away with shoddy work, by wagging their treacle coated tongues in false praise of their, equally poor, leaders. That’s partiality – and that’s totally unacceptable! This is only about the rest who do good work to move up the professional ladder. Unfortunately, people’s perceptions, tend to confuse favouritism with partiality.
Leaders have a job to do, in the shortest possible time, with the best available resources. Hence, while the decision around ‘who’ has to be made quickly, it has to be made keeping in mind a wide range of elements: competencies, basic competence (there’s a difference), past successes, integrity, attitude, location and availability. No, it isn’t easy. Leaders tend to choose people who have consistently met all the above requirements. At times, the leader may even take a punt on someone new – because the person was in the right place, at the right time, and was willing and able. Therefore, if the same people get nominated again and again, so be it! However, the good news is that leaders make correct decisions almost every time.
Yet, some employees feel excluded and accuse their leaders of favouritism, instead of partiality. And of course, there’s no denying that partiality does exist. However, processes, policies, laws and resources are available to impacted employees. There’s recourse – HR has seen to that!
Interestingly, the general sympathy is always towards the employee. The boss, after all, is the devil by DNA! Anonymous, upward feedback programs blindly allow people to convert their perceptions into fact. By simply blackening that circle, even the most balanced leader becomes nepotistic. So rather than getting the employee to substantiate their point, it is the leader who has to prove their allegation wrong and put in elaborate ‘action plans’. Still, the spoor lingers on…
It is easy to say that leaders need to communicate better, keep the team informed and justify but it isn’t always feasible and no one’s satisfied anyway. So there will always be crabs. Counseling being the unpaid part of HR, it is important to put these crabs, complaining about favouritism, through the ‘would-could-should’ examination:
- Would you do it: This is about willingness as, often, people aspire for new, interesting work and promotions, yet are unwilling to put in the necessary extra time, extensive travel or relocation involved.
- Could you do it: This is about ability as everyone ‘believes’ they have the competencies required for the job; yet few are able to demonstrate them adequately.
- Should you do it: This is about alignment with the individual’s development plan. Glamour of the potential limelight, or even professional frustration, can sway people. They don’t realize that doing work that is out of sync with their professional development plans wastes precious time and resources.
Effective probing often squeezes out the painful truth, the ineligibility of the individual. But, despite appropriate advice, there’s no guarantee that the person would accept and work on their development areas. Being a victim is so much easier than accepting one’s folly.
People would do well to put themselves through the would-could-should test before they enter the victim mode and waste everyone’s time. Honesty being the key word here, because, while we all agree that one cannot fool one’s self, one sees examples of this everywhere – from the workspace to the golf course.
It is also equally important to start looking at things from the leader’s point of view. Leaders are human too. And even though they may not show it openly, they actually do have feelings. They do feel concerned when their people are unhappy and they do feel hurt when accused of ‘favouritism’. Simply crying ‘favouritism’ never gets anyone either positive visibility, or high-impact work. Only the appropriate readiness level, successful execution, personal integrity and faith in their leader will help lubricate people’s upward movement. So here are some tips, people!
Deliver, then demand. Assess your readiness level and professional boundaries, preferably. Seek a mentor’s help. Diplomatically speak up, but be open to justification, followed by advice and some action steps. Be factual, perceptions are deceptive.
Favouritism is actually good – so long as work gets done efficiently. The larger population understands this. The rest need to dial up on professionalism, maturity and personal integrity – or find another job!