How Leaders Handle Favoritism

how leaders handle favoritismRecently I blogged about the leadership pitfall of pride. Today, in this excerpt from my new book, I share another pitfall leaders face that’s often less obvious – favoritism.

Do you have a favorite employee?

Just thinking about admitting it causes us to cringe at the possibility of the negative backlash from those who are the not-so favorites, should they ever learn our true feelings.

But that’s the point. They already know.

I firmly believe the universal determinant of who becomes the leader’s workplace favorite is essentially a question of who consistently gets their job done with the least amount of direct supervision, organizational drama, and overall disruption. I’m betting you agree. It’s very likely that the person who’s able to get the work done while making your life easier in the process will be–or already is–your hands-down favorite, too.

So being your favorite is a good thing for that chosen golden child, right? As a reward for diligence and hard work, your favorite can expect to be rewarded with the cushiest jobs and most favorable assignments, right? The uninformed might expect so, but the reality is often radically different. 

Too often, the rewards awaiting the favorite include heavier workloads, longer hours, more difficult assignments, and loftier expectations. I like to think of such a scenario as reverse favoritism–that situation in which the favored employees get the least favored treatment.

Conversely, leaders often release those employees who moan, groan, gripe, and complain the loudest–about even the most minimal or insignificant tasks, assignments, or requests–from their professional expectations and obligations far too often. Why? Honestly, more often than not, the leader just gets tired of listening to it all. Once the gripers realize that their griping allows them to do less, not more, they’re sure to continue and intensify this behavior. Remember, that which gets rewarded gets repeated.

How Leaders Handle Favoritism

Considering all the griping that leaders hear, many assume–and rightly so–that it’s simply easier to ask their favorites to do the job. Easier because, over time, we’ve come to expect our favorites to do what we ask without question, reservation, conflict, or confrontation. And that is usually what happens, until our favorites eventually get a bellyful of their favored treatment.

Leaders ought to know the practical difference between having favorites and showing favoritism. Common sense reminds us of how crucial it is to set performance standards high and then make sure that everyone, not just your favorites, performs at the expected level. Otherwise, you may begin to see those favorites either slipping away from you in search of greener pastures or, worse still, gradually joining the ranks of the gripers and complainers that surround us.

Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker
Author of Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership

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Leaders Who Lose Their Temper

Buy the Book

(This excerpt is reprinted by permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership, by Phillip Van Hooser Copyright (c) 2013 by Phillip Van Hooser.)

Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on engaged leadership and communication. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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