Leadership Fairness is Not Neutrality

Leaders who have moved passed the autocratic style of leadership and embrace employee engagement, collaboration, and empowerment sometimes face a new challenge — what to do when people disagree.

Both new and experienced leaders struggle with this. They feel compelled to be fair to all who disagree and they get trapped in defining what is fair. In their confusion, they mistakenly settle into neutrality with grave consequences.

In leadership, fairness is not neutrality.

Leadership Fairness: Image is shadow of human balancing in neutral.

In Leadership Neutrality is Not Fairness Image by: Gwen

Image by: Gwen via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Leadership Fairness vs. Neutrality: A Clearer View

  • Great leaders are impartial not neutral. There is a significance difference between impartiality and neutrality. Impartiality is active. Neutrality is passive. Impartiality keeps bias at bay. Long term neutrality keeps success at bay. It abandons, isolates, demotivates, and disengages. Great leaders are engaged and personally engage others with care and inspiration.

  • Great leaders don’t settle; they choose. There may be moments when leaders temporarily choose neutrality to understand what will come of divergent views and ponder the big picture. They may wait before weighing in yet they don’t hide in neutrality.

  • Great leaders navigate divergent views by keeping their eye on the business goal. Divergent views are the team’s raw materials of success. Great leaders use their experience, intuition, perspective, and private access to information to help craft those raw materials into a positive result. There is no leadership fairness in leaders withholding their value and letting the teams struggle endlessly.

  • Great leaders mentor through the rich mix of views. As they see disagreements surface and then begin to swirl, they seize the opportunity to develop the team’s critical thinking skills. Through leaders’ excellent questions, team members learn how to assess the better pathway and reach the goal. In these moments, great leaders are facilitating current success and developing future leaders. Neutrality does not accomplish this.

  • Great leaders practice humility not neutrality. The know-it-all leader is not a great leader. The neutral leader is not a great leader. The leader who practices humility becomes the model of how to disagree without being disagreeable. Neutrality doesn’t model this.

    Humility respects all. It removes resistance and speeds conflict resolution. Conversely, neutrality often drags conflict out during which time it erupts again and again.

    Humility speaks. It is not silent. It calmly sends a powerful message that neutrality never even whispers.

Leadership Fairness Is Found in Facilitating Greatness

New leaders, leading their former peers, bring greatness to the team by uniting all around the business goal. They are being fair to the whole team when they don’t let pleas for “fairness to your old buddies” paralyze them into neutrality.

Leaders who don’t like conflict bring greatness to the team when they teach their natural sense of collaboration rather than hiding in neutrality. Fairness lies in accountability to the team’s success.

Leaders with less occupational knowledge than those they lead bring greatness to the team when they use their impartial objectivity to help teams work through divergent views. They lose the team’s respect when their neutrality says “I’m not worthy”. Fairness to the team lies in overcoming self-doubt to ignite that team’s success, no matter what.

Leaders who want to build empowerment bring greatness to the team by not confusing empowerment with democracy. Empowerment tracks toward a common goal. Democracy tracks toward individual choice. Great leaders foster empowerment in teams (not democracy) to engage all to reach a shared success. Fairness to the team lives in resisting the temptation to be neutral. It shines in preventing empowerment from morphing into democracy.

In truth, great leaders don’t confuse neutrality and fairness. They know the difference between impartiality and neutrality. They aren’t conflicted over choosing between people or success.

They model and coach team members to respect and use diversity to kindle success. They inspire and engage people so they all can reach for the stars and yes, actually reach the stars!

It’s your turn …

  1. What else drives leaders into being neutral?
  2. Why do some leaders get stuck there and how does it impact those they lead?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Additional Actionable Leadership Posts:
Leadership: Engage Employees to Succeed at What? Integrity?
Leaders, Are You Leading With Honesty & Civility?

©2012-2014 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.



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14 Responses to “Leadership Fairness is Not Neutrality”

  1. Lawrence says:

    Very. Very. Very well said !

  2. Randy Conley says:

    I love your view on fairness, Kate. Sometimes leaders make the mistake of treating everyone the same for the sake of “fairness.” Sometimes the most unfair thing you can do is to treat everyone exactly the same. I think people need to be treated equitably and ethcially given their unique situation.

    Thanks for your insights on this topic. Well said!


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Randy. Glad you liked it. I love your phrase “equitably and ethically”. Great mantra for all to live by without getting stuck in “sameness”.

      Many thanks,

  3. Dain Dunston says:

    Kate, this is really important thinking. Neutrality is essentially dishonest in that it pretends that all views are equal. But that is rarely true and when leaders pretend it is, there’s an automatic disconnect and a slide into inauthentic behavior and from inauthentic behavior into disbelief and distrust.

    It’s critical for leaders to champion critical thinking and action. The best way to do that is to engage, question, challenge and encourage the passionate exchange of ideas. If you’re neutral to everything I say, I’m going to quit talking to you!

  4. Dain Dunston says:

    Just to show I’m not neutral on this topic,let me add on to the above comment, because here’s what you made me think about: if you’re my leader, I don’t want you to be neutral, I want to you CARE! I want you to be in gear, engage and as passionate as I am.

    Great example is in our book, Nanovation, where Ratan Tata launched a radical, crazy project at TATA Motors to build a safe car that Indian families could buy for the price of a scooter. He was passionate about (some on the team said “Crazy”) and he came to engineering and design meetings wherever he could. He argued passionately for solutions to taking costs out of parts and production. But he also listened passionately and let young designers tell him he was wrong when they needed to. The result was a team that did the impossible and changed their industry.

    Great work, Kate!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Very interesting Dain. You capture something very important in your comments — that to lead means to show passion, care, engage, as well as listen. Neutrality is misguided and perhaps even dishonest. WOW.

      Food for thought for all leaders.

      Warmest thanks for your contributions,

  5. Ros Baynes says:

    Thank you – a very interesting post. I like your definitions of empowerment/democracy and fairness/neutrality. These are important differences that are not always clearly understood.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Ros. As you say they are often not clearly understood. Moreover, definitions are often in play that are rarely pondered and discussed by leaders — yet having great effect on the org.

      So pleased you weighed in here and hope you will always add your thoughts to posts here at Smart SenseAbilities(TM).

      Very grateful for your time and insights.

  6. A very interesting blog, Kate, you’ve given lots of food for thought. I agree with your view that ‘Great leaders foster empowerment in teams to engage all to reach a shared success’. To develop team empowerment, leaders need to develop autonomy in the team, encouraging independence and responsibility. The team needs from their leader, clear direction along with support, encouragement and recognition.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Jenny,
      Many thanks Jenny. I see from your site that you are very engaged in employee engagement and am very pleased you have connected here on that topic.

      I would underscore that as leaders work to develop the teams’ independence and responsibility, they don’t use abandonment to do it. Responsibility and accountability don’t require neutrality from the leader. Engagement hits the mark.

      Best regards and thanks,

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