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.