As a child, I was obsessed with fairness. Did I get the same size cookie as my brother? Who drank the extra Coke? Who’s Christmas stocking had more candy in it? Clearly, food was the great equalizer or instrument of inequity in my early life.
We are a culture obsessed with fairness. Well, guess what. Life isn’t fair. Fairness ended a long time ago. And fairness is not coming back.
I actually think fairness is a horrible leadership principle, whether you are leading children in the home or adults in the work force, or worst of all, people in a church.
Life. Isn’t. Fair.
My job isn’t to be fair but to leverage what I have for what I think is important. That means if I have talents (and that is a topic for debate), I should use them to drive my mission. In the workplace, that means I use them to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable. And that means that what I do is not driven by fairness but by what, within ethical and moral constrains, will lead to the most success in carrying out my mission.
Fairness is a leadership principle in the most mediocre of organizations, where a boss runs around so worried that everyone is being treated fairly that he or she can’t do Job One, which is the mission of the organization. Do I want a nurse handling triage to be fair? First come, first serve? Sounds like a recipe for death, or a least a five-year malpractice lawsuit.
My kids were taught this from an early age. There is a nursery school adage I recently heard again that says it all. “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”
Didn’t get what you deserve? Then prove it.
I got a raise one year that I thought was too low. I worked my tail off so my partner would realize the next go-round (which turned out to be only six months from the previous raise) that I merited a larger salary.
Was the first raise fair? By some standards, probably not. Did I send 10 emails to co-workers complaining about “unfairness?” No. Because this pre-dated email. I’m old.
If you are a leader, stop holding up fairness as a legitimate leadership principle. If you are being led, stop demanding “fairness.”
The ironic thing is, in the end, things will actually end up far “more fair” if you enforce a No Fairness Zone.