In management, fairness is a virtue. Numerous academic studies have shown that the most effective leaders are generally those who give employees a voice, treat them with dignity and consistency, and base decisions on accurate and complete information.
But there’s a hidden cost to this behavior. It has been found that although fair managers earn respect, they’re seen as less powerful than other managers—less in control of resources, less able to reward and punish—and that may hurt their odds of attaining certain key, contentious leadership roles.
A research, which included lab studies and responses from hundreds of corporate decision makers and employees, began with the age-old question “Should leaders be loved or feared?” We went a step further, asking, “Can you have respect and power?” We found that it’s hard to gain both.
In 2001, when it came time for a new CEO, the two were among the top candidates. McKinnell was chosen. One analyst told Bloomberg, “[Hank] is the right guy for the job…he’s got a toughness about him.”
We heard this attitude expressed in a range of industries. Decisions about high-level promotions most often center on perceptions of power, not of fairness.
The same bias was exhibited by students in a laboratory setting. Each witnessed a “manager” telling an employee about a compensation decision. Manager A communicated the decision rudely, Manager B with respect. The students were then assigned to work in a group led by the manager they’d observed; afterward they rated their leader’s power. Rude Manager A consistently scored higher than respectful Manager B—even though there was no difference in how they’d treated the participants themselves. Simply having witnessed the rude and respectful behavior was enough to create the bias.
We’ve long wondered why managers don’t always behave fairly, because doing so would clearly benefit their organizations: Studies show that the success of change initiatives depends largely on fair implementation. Some research suggests an answer. Managers see respect and power as two mutually exclusive avenues to influence, and many choose the latter.
Companies can benefit from placing more value on fairness when assessing managerial performance. A early follow-up research suggests that managers whose style is based on respect can gain power. Their path upward may be difficult, but it’s one worth taking, for their company’s sake as well as their own.
Courtesy: Harvard Business Review