“I thought treating everyone the same was being fair and impartial. Gradually, I began to suspect that it was neither fair nor impartial. In fact, it was just the opposite. That’s when I began announcing that team members wouldn’t be treated the same or alike; rather, each one would receive the treatment they earned or deserved.” – John Wooden
Last week in this space we kicked off the New Year with the idea that leaders can’t treat everyone the same just to keep everybody happy. Apparently, some people had strong feelings about that, as I got a number of passionate emails in response.
There were several people who felt like, in theory, my point was correct. However, they very clearly thought that if you treated anyone differently because they were a great or a terrible employee that you were being unfair, mostly to the terrible employee. Basically, their point was that just because someone is a terrible employee doesn’t mean you can treat them poorly.
I agree. When I’m suggesting that you can’t treat your great and terrible employees in the same manner, I don’t mean the way you treat them as human beings. You ought to treat every human being you meet with respect, regardless of who they are or what kind of employee they are. That’s just a basic requirement of being a decent human being.
When I’m suggesting that you can’t treat your great and terrible employees in the same manner, I mean in terms of things like coaching, mentoring, development, training, etc. Your best employees deserve the most attention. They’ve earned great coaching, they’ve earned great mentoring, they’ve earned the right to your help in having a great career.
Your worst employees haven’t earned those things. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people. But you can’t spend the majority of your time on those people. The law of diminishing returns will kick in and they’ll hit their ceiling.
It’s similar to how we treat ourselves. We spend most of our lives trying to turn our weaknesses into strengths. We beat our heads against a wall over and over again trying to become world-class at something we struggle with. Meanwhile, our strengths get relatively little attention. If we put as much time into developing our strengths as we do improving our weaknesses, who knows how high we could go.
That’s the point with your people as well. Focus on those who are great. They’ve earned the right to special treatment. The only way it’s unfair is if they don’t get special treatment. And if they don’t get it, they’ll leave you and find it somewhere else.