Leading Everyone Well: Equality and Equity

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In our current culture, there’s a lot of conversation about equality. Whether it’s a discussion about race, gender, or other cultural divides, over the past few months news events have forced us to reconsider the way we interact with others. It’s pushed many leaders to take a long hard look in the mirror, and that’s a good thing.

We need to stop and ask ourselves some hard questions about the way we value people.

I have a high value of people and I think every human life deserves respect. The more I’ve experienced as a leader, the more I’ve cemented my belief that people are worthy of my very best.

And though I’ve spent my life trying to add value to people in all I do, it’s become more and more apparent to me that these days there’s an undercurrent of extracting value from others rather than adding value to them.

Truthfully, that undercurrent has been there for a while, but today is easier for people to find their voice and call out those who would mistreat others. After years of slow progress, we now live in a world where change is not only happening, it’s happening faster than anyone dreamed.

And as we push towards a society that re-establishes and re-commits to valuing people, I want to share a thought to help guide us as leaders towards a better future:

Great leaders value people equally and treat people equitably.

Everyone is valued, and seen as having value, so everyone is set up for success according to his or her skill, talent, role, and potential.

What often happens, though, is that leaders get these terms confused. As a result, equality on the individual level is conflated with equality within systems, and leaders end up attempting to treat people the same, in every situation, no matter what.

And when you attempt to treat everyone the same, you ignore their uniqueness and minimize their perspective and experience.

You end up devaluing them.

As leaders, we must understand that equality applies to human dignity—all people are created with value; all people deserve to be treated respectfully and with an eye towards human worth. We treat people equally by valuing each person on our team.

Equity is different from equality. Equity is achieved through systems and processes. If you take your top sales person and your top IT worker, give them the same computer, the same budget, and the same timeline, then ask them to come up with 50 new sales, chances are good your sales person is going to defeat the IT expert, even though you treated them equally.

Equity changes variables to help the individual have a chance at success. The IT expert may get the same budget, timeline, and laptop, but if you change the measurement of success to eliminating 5 redundancies within the company’s technology framework, you’ve changed the game.

You’ve created equity.

Equality is often the rally cry of lazy leaders—they don’t want to deal with people on an individual basis, so they claim to treat everyone equally, and pat themselves on the back for doing a fine job.

It’s the path of least resistance, and it creates a culture where inequity and inequality will go hand-in-hand.

And it’s a path that must be avoided at all costs.

For years, I’ve told everyone who works with me, “Everyone gets my love, but you have to earn my time.”

Now, I make sure that the people who work on my team are set up for success. They have what they need to do great work: vision, values, a growth environment, training, tools, time, and empowerment. No matter their role, they have the ingredients for success.

That’s equality and equity.

And it’s what we need right now.

15 Comments

  1. Pansy Walker on October 30, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you for a great read. It’s a delicate subject because there is no discussion around these topics early on in the lives of humans. But the application is so simple and evident. Ask a group of 4 year olds why children wear glasses. Then follow up with “what about children who can’t get glasses?” They can understand the concept. Expose them to the terminology. Listen. You would be amazed at the solutions 4 year olds come up with.
    Diversity, communication, and respect can eliminate fear and separation.

    • John Maxwell on November 6, 2018 at 11:26 am

      Thank you for sharing, Pansy, especially your reminder that we need to listen and communicate.

  2. Deborah on October 30, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    What amazing insight you have. I just signed up for your blog, read my first one, and wish I’d met you 20 years ago! Is there still time for me to make differences such as these in life going on 50? I’m excited to find out!

    • John Maxwell on November 6, 2018 at 11:27 am

      There is still plenty of time for you to make a difference, Deborah! All you have to do is be intentional about making that difference.

  3. Deborah L Joe on October 30, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    It never crossed my mind the equity of a person. Everyone has value in its place according to the level of specific knowledge one has. Thank you!

    • John Maxwell on November 6, 2018 at 11:31 am

      You’re welcome! Thank you for reading.

  4. Victor L. Caldwell on October 30, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    I am a part-time chaplain with Marketplace Chaplains USA serving a McLane Foodservice Distribution in Phoenix, AZ.
    It was privilege to attend your Church Leadership Seminar in Portland, OR some years ago. I have retired from pastoral ministry after nearly 50 years. I am not sure how this will help me but, based on past experience, there must be some benefits to be gained.

    • John Maxwell on November 6, 2018 at 11:32 am

      Victor, thank you for having a learner’s mindset, and for taking the time to comment.

  5. Robert W. Bernard on October 30, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Another great piece of work. I find myself often trying to read as much of the information you have spoken, written and talked about. I love reading through the Maxwell Leadership Bible. So much great information and the depth of the information is unmatched. Thank you.

    • John Maxwell on November 6, 2018 at 11:32 am

      You’re welcome, Robert! Thank you for reading.

  6. Gloria Bond on October 30, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    This is my first experience reading your blog. If we as Leaders don’t value people, how can we possibly value ourselves. As leaders, people are our most important asset and should be treated as such. Stereotyping people and treating them all the same does not display leadership skills nor mindset. Great blog by John Maxwell and a very powerful and insightful reminder of treating others as you want to be treated.

    • John Maxwell on November 6, 2018 at 11:33 am

      Thank you for reading, Gloria!

  7. Carl L Chambers on October 30, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to blog on equality and equity at this moment in history. We all have biases, but effective leaders first and foremost must be cognizant of their own. Next, effective leaders must make a conscious effort to address both personal biases and organizational biases. Talk is cheap and many organizations do a great job of painting the facade of being a place of equality to obtain an ulterior motive for example local, state, and federal funding despite the fact that they are not truly an equal opportunity employer. In many organizations, equality is addressed through affirmative action plans and or policies depending on an organizations size. It is more of a catch me if you can approach for many large organizations due to their financial influence and their ability to draw out cases for long extended periods with legal teams. Lodal, state, and federal governments do not have the manpower to audit every business.

    I was fortunate to hear you speak about why you left your dad’s organization this past weekend. You stated and I am paraphrasing that it was because many of the people within the organization weren’t like your dad in terms of their leadership style or their beliefs. Being more candid, you shared that there was poison everywhere and you had to get away from it. Ultimately, you shared that your dad gave you his blessing and how hard it was to leave because you were supposed to be the one to carry forth your dad’s organization. I share that excerpt to say that I know that you understand when you write and speak on subject matter like equality and equity. You understand what it means to have a solid foundation. It reminds me of the theme from the August IMC, Unity through Diversity. I am blessed and honored to be part of JMT. I know that you prayed for God to send you quality people. I prayed for God to send me like-minded individuals that believe that people are not commodities to be used up and discarded but to be cultivated to be their best. I thank God for connecting me with you and the JMT!

    • John Maxwell on November 6, 2018 at 11:34 am

      We are grateful to have you as part of JMT, Carl! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  8. Peter DeMarco on November 8, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    John, you may want to reconsider your statement, “equity is achieved through systems and processes.” Equity like equality is a principle of fairness. It is not achieved through systems but through the virtue of prudence (sound judgment) in the leader. Systems and processes may reflect that judgment but many do not. Submitted for your consideration.

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