In the previous post, I responded to an email from Susan about the perils of double standards and team leaders who play favorites. To be fair, there are a few legitimate reasons to have favorites, but when those biases affect the opportunities, coaching, feedback, or rewards that you provide, they can play into a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy that props up the stars while dooming others to fail.
Keeping the playing field level is easier said than done. Here are a few bad habits you need to watch out for and some of the antidotes that give everybody a fair shake.
Bad Habit #1: Your favorites get all the plum assignments
Although it might be completely fair to assign the most important tasks to the high performers, doing so accelerates their development and denies everyone else of the growth opportunity. You have a business to run, so I’m not advocating that you take your multi-million dollar account and hand it over to someone with a spotty record. I am encouraging you to find assignments for everyone else that will develop their skills and give them a chance to show you their stuff.
Bad Habit #2: You give more valuable information and insight to favorites
It’s natural, you will spend more time with the people you like more and during that time, you’ll communicate valuable information. Your favorite will use the insight gleaned to do a better job. The old saying “knowledge is power” is true and you significantly disadvantage everyone else by giving more information to your favorites. Make an effort to convey information to the whole team. Avoid one-on-one interactions with favorites where you share information that others can’t access.
Bad Habit #3: You invest more in feedback and coaching for favorites
You are invested in your favorites and cheering for them to be successful. As a result, you spend more time giving constructive feedback and coaching them to be successful. You’ve pretty much given up on everyone else—they’re fine, but they’re never going to be a star. Nope, not with you as a boss they won’t! The people who are struggling to meet your expectations deserve your investment. Be candid about what they need to do to succeed and cheer on their successes as much as you would the favorite’s.
Bad Habit #4: You develop more of a personal relationship with favorites
As you start admiring one of your team members, you tend to open up a different conversation. You learn about the person’s backstory: the family they grew up in, formative experiences from their youth, moments of truth, their proudest accomplishments and their fears and vulnerabilities. Once you form a connection on that level, you’ll empathize with the person. You might even rationalize their mistakes or weaknesses. Create opportunities to get to know everyone.
Bad Habit #5: You fall victim to confirmation bias and become more polarized
Sadly, humans are much more comfortable being right than being wrong. It turns out that you pay attention to the evidence that proves you’re right and mostly ignore or downplay the evidence that contradicts your initial evaluations. Thus, you collect the evidence that shows how the favorite is exemplary and the evidence of how the non-favorite is sub-par. (And similarly, you are less likely to attend to information that is flattering to the non-favorite or unflattering to the favorite.) One way to balance your information is to solicit peer feedback on the team. Look for disconfirming information from those who might be less biased.
Bad Habit #6: Your body language gives away your favoritism
It’s bad enough that your deliberate actions are demonstrating a bias in how you treat your team members, but sometimes your body language screams those biases without you saying a word. You turn your shoulders toward your favorites and greet them with open, supportive body language. Periodically throughout the day you meet their gaze and give an encouraging smile. Make a conscious effort to provide the same encouragement to everyone. When someone speaks, turn your body to face them. When you feel yourself dropping eye contact, re-establish it with a smile.
Having favorites is probably unavoidable. Behaving in a way that disadvantages your non-favorites is not only unfair, disengaging, and demoralizing, it’s also doing a disservice to your team and your organization. For the next little while, become hyper-aware of your favoritism and avoid these bad habits that are dooming people to fail.