Leaders: You Are Accused of Favouritism… How Do You Plead?

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 26th October 2017

Most workplaces have seen it at some point. The feeling that a person or group is more favoured than others, gets better treatment, more opportunities and is generally blessed.

If you are a leader, consider your own behaviour: do you favour some people in your team or peer group more than others? Do some get more of your attention or more of your time? Are there some you avoid or rarely engage with? It’s likely that this is the case, but you need to think about the implications.

Favouritism in the workplace

Why might you be accused of favouritism?

Let’s start with the reasons:

  1. It could be the nature of your respective roles, which mean you don’t need to interact very often
  2. It could be geography (even in the same building) that means you don’t physically encounter each other very often
  3. It could be that you don’t have much of a relationship and so don’t have any social interaction
  4. It could be chemistry – you haven’t warmed to each other
  5. It could be that you don’t like each other or have had negative interactions in the past
  6. It could be that you need or choose to interact a lot more with some and therefore don’t have much time to spare for anyone else

Implications of ‘favouritism’

Now let’s think about the implications of these 6 reasons:

  • Those who are ‘outside’ your circle could feel marginalised or mistrusted
  • Those within your circle could feel (and behave) like an elite and flaunt their special status
  • Team morale could be damaged for everyone
  • Tensions could be created between members of your team, damaging teamwork & performance

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Consider your team

So far, so obvious.

But consider carefully. You may not feel that those reasons are pertinent to you, but then what matters most is what your team members think. What attitudes and behaviour are you exhibiting about this? It is perfectly reasonable for any leader to find themselves in the position described by reason one. However, the potential downsides need to be managed.

How to avoid being accused of favouritism

The objective we should all be striving for is to build and sustain a well-integrated, mutually supportive and high-performing team. You might also want creativity, innovation, collaboration, diligence and communication. So, think of the impact of reasons 1-6 on each of these. Not helpful, right?

As a leader, you need to build and sustain positive relationships with all your team members and create the culture and environment whereby they do the same with each other. Each of your team members needs your attention and needs some ‘air-time’ with you, so think about how you’ll do this. Many organisations have a process for formal 1-2-1 meetings or periodic development reviews. If yours is one of them, that can be a good place to start if they’re used well, to achieve the objective stated in the preceding paragraph. You may also want to ensure you have more frequent – and less formal – chances to communicate and interact. A large part of your time as a leader should be invested in building relationships and creating the right culture. Use your time well!

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