Archive: A Reputation for Fairness from the Cultivating Your Career Reputations series and book

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There are many reputations that collectively make up your overall reputation. First in line for discussion is a reputation for fairness. What is fairness and how does it impact our work, our careers and our lives?

Our usual introduction to fairness is as a child. You often hear younger children proclaiming, “That’s not fair!” to parents and their friends when something doesn’t go their way. As children, though, life is inherently unfair. We are under the control and guidance of adults and sometimes the only answer they can give for their actions is, “because I said so.” As we grow older the concept of fairness grows. We know when someone is not playing fair. We can tell in the ways they act and talk. We learn that fairness is an important concept in interpersonal relationships, especially work, and those that transgress it are shunned, even though they might rise to high levels. While they might achieve great success in their work, they pay for their lack of fairness in other ways.


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How do you build a reputation for fairness? In some ways, what you don’t do is as important as what you do.

First, fairness means treating every person equally as an individual. We all have people we like and people we don’t. We can find ways to gather people around us that we respect, but the moment we start denigrating others, solely to enhance our own position, we are failing a fundamental fairness test. Firing someone, or getting them fired, simply because we don’t like them is wrong. If you can truthfully point to poor work performance or other behaviors that prevent them from doing their job, that is another issue. Too often, though, people will exaggerate issues or create them out of whole cloth, simply to remove someone they don’t like.

If we allow our favorites to break rules, while simultaneously punishing others for the same infractions, we are also no longer being fair. If we forgive the failings of our friends, but harshly condemn those same failings in our enemies, we are being hypocritical, as well. Transgressions are the same, no matter who commits them. To act otherwise shows a lack of fairness in how you deal with others.
Don’t punish others for thoughts, politics or culture that might be different from yours. I have often seen situations where a difference of opinion on a non-work related issue colors a work relationship. We cannot possibly agree on everything, but if those opinions do not effect work or the work environment, they must not be used to punish others.

Taking responsibility for your own actions and mistakes is the epitome of fairness, If you are actively trying to blame your failures on others, or hiding your mistakes so that someone else takes the blame, you are not being fair. Yet, this happens all the time. Some of the worst examples are when people withhold the information that their part of a project is behind schedule or failing. It is only when others, who are depending on them, try to assemble the whole that your failings are discovered. The unfairness lies in the fact that your lack of openness has left your co-workers with no time to develop new options, no way to try and salvage the situation. You have truly abandoned them.

Do you see yourself in any of these examples? All of us, from time to time can forget the importance of fairness in our work and in our lives, but I believe a reputation for fairness is one of the core elements that make up a great reputation. When you treat others fairly, they are more inclined to return the favor. When you make decisions based on facts, not politics or surface likes and dislikes, those around you will feel free to do their best work. When you treat others as individuals you will develop a level of trust that allows everyone to perform at a higher level.

Lack of fairness creates infighting, fear and animosity between people. When you develop a reputation for fairness, people will seek you out and do whatever is necessary to work with you. Together you will grow in skills and responsibility. Ignore fairness, though, and you will face a dog-eat-dog world where you fight your co-workers for scraps instead of developing something great together.


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