Leadership and favouritism

Balance is always hard to strike and often, there are various external factors that play a role when trying to attain this balance when it comes to people. There are people you will like and people you are neutral about and some that you will not be able to stand. But, in a professional environment, you end up working and dealing with all kinds of people. 

I have had the privilege of working with some phenomenal leaders who could keep the personal and professional sides of relationships vastly different. While I knew that I did come high up on their list of people they preferred to be with and work with, it never came to the point they would cut me some slack in case I didn’t do what I had to get done or if I didn’t show enough effort. In fact, sometimes it would be counter productive as those that invested in me more, would be harder on me to ensure they got the best out of me. I have had it tougher with these leaders as they would know what my full potential was, and they would push me till I got there. 

Sometimes, I would end up being pushed and punished more because of this fact, because people would assume I was a favourite and I had it easy, some of my bosses would go out of their way to make it tougher for me, so it would seem to even out the odds. Not sure if that was the best way, but it did happen and sometimes opportunities would be taken away for this exact same reason. But, as I say, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger… 

In teams, as leaders, it is easy to have favourites because there are naturally people more inclined to be better overall and at their jobs and energies sync far better with some people, while they don’t otherwise. While it may be unavoidable, it is unfair to let favouritism get the better of you and feature in the treatment of your teammates. 

Preferential treatment does not encourage a culture of trust. It builds barriers and limits transparent communications within the team. It also has a direct impact on performance and can cut the wings and demotivate high performing candidates. 

Both conscious and unconscious biases come into play and with preferential treatment, there are unaddressed needs and concerns of colleagues that are often brushed under the carpet.

How to identify favouritism?

  • Undue and superior attention
  • Endorsing and promoting one over the other
  • Preferential and better treatment
  • Discriminatory treatment
  • Sharing of confidential information
  • Overlooking mistakes and accepting below standard work
  • Assigning important tasks and highlighting work done by those preferred
  • Offering additional benefits and assistance
  • Recognising and awarding the work of some over others
  • Overriding delegation of authority and crippling necessary hierarchy 

It is only natural that we will have an inclination or liking towards some people over others because we are people first and leaders later. The problem is when we allow that liking to cloud our judgement and when we play to the favourite. 

How do you deal with favouritism?

  • Be observant and take note of occurrences
  • Notice a pattern if it exists
  • Figure out how intense it is and if it needs to be addressed immediately
  • Decide what you will do about it
  • Talk to your peers and corroborate in a very non-intrusive, non-influential manner
  • Raise it with the person in question with anecdotal instances
  • Bring in HR if needed and escalate
  • Avoid indulging in gossip of any form 

How do you avoid playing to favouritism?

  • Use a sound value system as a leader to keep track of the team and the organisations goals
  • Use inclusion to your advantage
  • Stay on track for all tasks and monitor everyone fairly, based on the framework
  • Give everyone equal opportunity
  • Reward effort and encourage everyone to perform at their optimum
  • Leverage empathy and stay kind

Any form of discrimination will lead to an environment of resentment and anger and negativity will play unless there is absolute fairness and meritocracy. 

I hope we can all stand up and speak up when we see or are subject to unfair instances. 

Everyone is different but everyone deserves a chance to be treated fairly. 

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Shreya Krishnan
Vice President - Marketing and Communications at Aon India Insurance Brokers
Shreya is a CSR Specialist and Corporate Grooming Consultant. Her interests lie in Activism, Dance, Theatre, Poetry, Blogging, Modelling, Acting. She considers herself an Earth Warrior and is an Event Anchor and Trainer. She is a Pageant Winner and public speaker.

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