By Bill Auxier, Ph.D.
Have you ever heard anyone in your organization say that to be an effective leader you need to play favorites? I’m guessing it’s the exact opposite; effective leaders don’t play favorites. I’ve never had to fill out nor have I ever heard of a performance appraisal measuring how effectively you suck up to management. Most companies encourage its members to speak candidly, to push back, to challenge the status quo. Most individuals, most leaders, discourage sucking up. So why does so much sucking up take place? Because we say one thing and do another, without even realizing it.
It is common to reward those who do things for us. This encourages behavior that is good for you, not necessarily good for the organization. Playing favorites creates two problems: first, it makes keeping the boss happy a higher priority than getting work done, and second, it rewards the wrong people. Those who do push back, those who do speak candidly, those who do challenge the status quo are not rewarded like the suck-ups are.
Becoming a more effective leader means stopping playing favorites. Becoming a more effective leader means admitting that you have a tendency to favor those who favor you. So how do you stop? Marshall Goldsmith suggests that you rank your direct reports into three categories:
- How much do they like me?
- What is their contribution to the company and its customers?
- How much positive recognition do I give them?
Once you have ranked your direct reports into these categories, ask yourself if you are rewarding people based on how much they like you or how they perform. Rewarding others based on how much they like you is playing favorites. This analysis won’t solve the problem, but it will let you know if this is a habit of yours.