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Lolly Daskal


Fair Isn’t Always Fair

How can a partnership thrive when there’s reluctance to give?

Published: Monday, January 25, 2016 - 14:26


he negotiation phase of my client’s merger with a larger organization was drawing to a close. This consolidation was going to be big news, and everyone was looking forward to getting it done. I sat with my client through a long week of agreeing to terms, and then it happened: The other CEO’s attitude was truly revealed.

“The way this merger is going to work is: If you do your part, then I will do my part,” proclaimed the CEO. “But if you don’t do your part—if you think you will screw with me—take note that I will screw with you even more. Treat me fairly and I will treat you fairly.”

I looked at my client, hoping to glimpse his thoughts, but his face registered no emotion. Everyone then left the room.

“This merger cannot go through,” I said, facing my client.

“I know,” he said.

You might be thinking that the CEO’s passionate announcement was fair. After all, as long as my client treated him fairly, then all would be well. If my client treated him unfairly, however, the war would be on.

Sometimes fair isn’t fair at all

Fair is not fair when you are cultivating a relationship. Being fair in a relationship doesn’t always work. Sometimes one person gives more than the other; sometimes one person works harder than the other. Being in a relationship with an attitude to give each other just what is fair is not enough. If you are going to partner, you want to give more than what is fair. You want to give more than expected, to do what is right—not what is fair.

Successful leaders care about people and go the extra mile

Fair is not fair when you are counting your deeds. If you are in a partnership or relationship where every deed is accounted for and tallied up, you will never get far. For companies to thrive, for leadership to work, you have to give back better than what you have been given, and you have to stop counting your deeds. You have to give because you want to give and not worry about what you will get back in return.

Successful leaders give back more than they have been given

Fair is not fair when we are being human. Human beings make mistakes. That is a part of life and it is most certainly part of business. When we make mistakes we want to know that someone will be there to help us, not get back at us or punish us. If we do something wrong or if we mess up, we want someone in our lives to teach us, support us, and guide us, not punish us. We want grace and mercy. The same is true if it’s the other way around. When someone in your life makes a mistake, you don’t want to take an eye for an eye. You want to be able to understand and forgive. It’s not about getting even, but about learning from each other.

Successful leaders are patient in the face of mistakes and try to learn from them

Fair is not fair in dependency. If you have a relationship or partnership grounded in dependency, you have a relationship that will fail. If you will be good to me only if you believe I am being good to you, and you are willing to punish me any time you think I’ve treated you badly, then our relationship is neither good nor fair.

Successful leaders see leadership as a way of growing and learning, not taking and punishing

Being fair is good, but it doesn’t always work. What does work is giving the best of what you have to offer and investing your time and energy in supportive partnerships that help you grow and develop even more.

Lead from within. Fair is not always fair. Sometimes it’s about doing what is right.

First published on Lolly Daskal’s Lead From Within blog.


About The Author

Lolly Daskal’s picture

Lolly Daskal

Lolly Daskal is one of the world’s most sought-after executive leadership coaches, with cross-cultural expertise spanning 14 countries, six languages, and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world. Based on a mix of modern philosophy, science, and nearly 30 years coaching executives, Daskal’s perspective on leadership continues to break new ground. Her proprietary insights are the subject of her book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness (Penguin Portfolio, 2017).