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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Aug 2, 2019


The best leaders prioritise treating people well, and reap the benefits through higher performance and greater commitment. But time pressure can make this difficult. Here are five ways busy leaders prioritise treating people well.



Hello and welcome to episode 47 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we look at five ways busy leaders prioritise treating people well.

Treating people well matters, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. Research shows that people who feel they are treated fairly perform better, and have higher team and organisational commitment. People who are treated fairly deliver better results and stay longer.

But what does it mean to be treated fairly? Researchers divide fairness into four factors:

  1. Equitable rewards - people want to see a link between performance and reward

  2. Transparent procedures for rewarding people - people are clear about the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of reward and recognition - they know what is rewarded, and the way it is rewarded

  3. Clear decision making - people are clear about the logic behind decisions, not just the decisions themselves

  4. Dignity and respect - people feel they are treated in a considerate way

No doubt you agree these all sound great, and the best leaders you have worked for have probably done all of those things. So why doesn’t it happen more often?

Research published in Harvard Business Review helps to explain why fairness can be such an issue. Through a series of studies the researchers found short-term high workloads were associated with leaders placing less attention on fairness. Even more concerning, they found that chronic and ongoing high workloads were associated with leaders persistently prioritising tasks over people.

The problem is that leaders who are under time pressure tend to put technical tasks ahead of people, and as a result their treatment of people suffers.

The risk is that performance drops off and people think about leaving. Not only that, the best leaders feel compromised - they may want to treat their people better, but feel they don’t have the time or permission to do that effectively. So, what can we do about it?

Here are five ways busy leaders prioritise treating people well:

  1. Great leaders still set aside time for their people: treating people fairly is rarely urgent, so the best leaders schedule time for their people. And they keep to those times even when they’re busy. If you’re interested in exploring that further you can check out episode 4 about monthly 1 on 1 meetings that work.

  2. Great leaders prioritise the process not just the task: researchers often refer to this as procedural fairness. People want to know that procedures have been established and are followed without exceptions.

  3. Great leaders agree and communicate what should be rewarded: they work with other leaders to establish values and performance standards.

  4. Great leaders differentiate based on performance: this isn’t necessarily about money, but could include secondments, promotions, conferences, training, additional leave. They also ensure that under-performers know they’re underperforming, then they help them to improve, they move them to a more appropriate role if needed and, if all else fails, they move them on.

  5. Great leaders share the ‘why’ behind decisions, not just the decisions themselves: in the absence of this, people make things up to fill in the gaps. The best leaders make sure the gaps aren’t there in the first place.

The world needs more leaders that prioritise treating people well. We also need organisations to value and reward fairness. Once leaders have permission to put people first they’re far more likely to be fair. It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it also produces better results and helps to retain our best people.



When Managers Are Overworked, They Treat Employees Less Fairly - Elad N. Sherf, Ravi S. Gajendran, Vijaya Venkataramani - JUNE 04, 2018