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The Other Person Determines What's "Fair"

Posted Oct 05 2010 3:46pm

You and I have seen this; and, we've done it as well:

You graduate from college and suddenly start ranting about how "all the good jobs" go to people with experience--people who are older and who've been around longer. 

Fast forward to your 'forties': "All the good jobs are being given to young people fresh out of school. Our management figured out they can hire them for less and save money." 

Pick any scenario in life: When your income is lower than you'd like, it's, "Tax the wealthier even more."

Voila! After a  bump in your employment situation, you discover you are in a new tax bracket. "Hmm, what are all these social programs my taxes are paying for? Can't people figure out how to 'get a life' like we did? And man, the salaries of the government workers are way high for what they do, there's no accountability, and everything looks mismanaged."


What's Fair?

"Fair" is, and always will be, determined by one's own situation, sense of (or lack of) personal responsibility, worldview, and values. I just came from a meeting where a middle manager who was transferred lamented her time at the current location. Why? The office was "small" and had only one window. In comes the new manager and shouts about how thrilled he is that his office has a window. "The last building was originally a warehouse and there just wasn't much window space to be had. This is great!"

The issue of perspective knows no organizational limits. The CEO of a client organization shared a similar incident when, due to the economic conditions, he downsized the physical space in order to use the money to save some jobs. The response of those involved: "I'm an executive; since when do executives share office space?" He reminded them that they could opt for another alternative to help him reduce costs.

Perspective defines the meaning of "fair" in any situation. Before making a change of any sort, discuss the reasons with everyone involved and intentionally address the notion of "fair." Let people know what you're trying to accomplish and why it's important. Listen for ways to accomplish the goal that may have escaped you and include them if they meet the criteria. Then, remember this:

It still won't "seem" fair to 100% of those involved because of their beliefs about "how things should be." In fact, some people will  be impacted negatively. However, most will ultimately respect you for "being just" in how you dealt with the situation.

Life Lesson #1: There is some percentage of people who believe that they are always victims. You won't ever change that. You move on; they won't.

Life Lesson #2: Life isn't fair. You don't have the power to make it that way even if you want to. 

Life Lesson #3: "Fair" is a somewhat juvenile notion. As an adult and a leader, you want to begin thinking about what is "Just." How can you ensure that all people are shown respect and dealt with even-handedly in the most difficult situations?

photo attribution: the very amusing folks with fun product at

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