Many managers complain that they feel like they have to be Mom or Dad to their teams. Of all the similarities between leading remote employees and being a parent, the most obvious is that you’re not supposed to have favorites. SPOILER ALERT: you probably do.
It’s not intentional, and if you’re wise you’re on guard against charges of favoritism and bias. But we display our preferences for some team members over others in all kinds of ways—some noticeable and some more subtle. This can show up in who gets more positive feedback, perhaps being harder on some people than others, or offering developmental opportunities to the person who shares an office with you rather than one of the remote folks you don’t see as often. When you need something done in a hurry, who is your go-to person? How did they end up in that role?
Why do you choose the way you do?
Not that you want to obsess about this, but it’s worthwhile asking yourself if you are demonstrating preferential treatment to some team members over others. Here are some questions worth asking, lifted straight from The Long-Distance Leader, Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.
- When you have a task to delegate, who do you think of first? Why?
- Are the people you associate with top performance all collocated with you? Why do you think that is?
- When you have a question and need to go to an employee, who is it? Why?
- Choose any two members of your team. When you have to give feedback on similar behavior, do you approach them the same way? Why not?
- Are you equally proactive approaching team members with both positive and negative feedback? Why?
- Are there members of the team who give you a knot in your stomach when you think about interacting with them? How does that impact the way you choose to communicate ?
- When evaluating performance, do you put the same weight on the data with everyone? What’s the difference then?
- Are there people you reach out to before others? How come?
- How strong are your positive and negative biases about certain people? Are you ever surprised or do they do exactly what you think they’ll do?
You’ll see that for each question, there’s a secondary question. Usually that question is WHY.
Is your choice to delegate work to someone based on their capability, or the fact that you saw them in the office and just acted, rather than considering the whole team?
Do you reach out to Alice first because she should be the first to know, or because it will be more pleasant than dealing with Ted?
Is your preference to work with someone based on the fact that you see them every day and are comfortable with the way they work, or is it really the quality of their work that drove that decision?
Don’t feel bad.
We all have biases . Some relationships run smoother than others. Some days you would much rather deal with Terry than Joe. But what you feel isn’t nearly as important as what you do. Does your preference for Bob’s work style mean he’ll get opportunities others won’t? Does the fact you see Al at the office every day mean he deserves that promotion more than Donna?
It’s okay to have some people you like more than others. It’s not okay to let that impact the work of the team or hold one person back over another for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their work.
When you experience strong feelings about someone, it’s important to ask yourself these questions to ensure you’re making the right decision for good reasons.
Oh, and your mom definitely had a favorite. She just hid it better than you do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.