Leadership and the Value of Fair Play

Jan 22

One key value that affects the effectiveness of leadership is fair play. Expectations, implied or expressed, are the basis of whether actions are seen as exhibiting fair play. Teamwork requires that team members trust that their expectations will be met.

The expectation of fair play derives from human attitudes toward reciprocity and equity. A great historical account that illustrates this important value in a leader is when Abraham Lincoln made an agreement with Henry E. Dummer, John Hardin and Edward D. Baker that they would rotate the nomination every two years and would help each other win the election. After Mr. Lincoln had helped others win their elections, it was his turn. In the face of some resistance he wrote to them, reminding them of their agreement and citing that “turn about is fair play”.

Reckless Self-Interest

The political environment today is rife with excess and unfair play. There seems to be an endless stream of kickbacks, misuse of funds, inappropriate relationships and many other types of behavior that does not meet expectations. A notable, although not isolated, example of this behavior is seen in the actions of Chris Christie’s staff in recent months. Political retribution, manipulation and coercion all demonstrate a reckless self-interest on the part of a leader.

Consequences of this type of behavior are almost universally negative in the long term. Alliances are short lived, trust is absent making skepticism high and outcomes are rarely in the best interests of the people who are represented.

Decreased Influence

A lack of fair play in leadership will eventually result is a diminished capacity to influence others and effect real change. Leaders who brush aside fairness and equity, who fail to reciprocate when expected, will find that their personal and positional power decrease over time. Unfortunately, many leaders learn this disappointing outcome when the stakes are highest, in times of emergency.

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