I spent the summer of 1992 working for the Los Angeles Unified School District teaching team building and leadership skills to inner-city kids. It was one of the most meaningful and wonderful jobs I’ve ever held.
Part of it was the difference we were able to make in the lives of these kids. Part of it was the camaraderie of our team.
Dana, our fearless boss, had a style I have tried to emulate ever since. He treated everyone on the team equally. He gave everyone an equal chance to do the jobs. He gave everyone a fair shake at learning the roles we had to play. He never played favorites with any of us.
Believe me when I tell you it is hard not to play favorites. As a leader, you tend to rely on one or two team members you know you can trust. You give them the better shifts. You give them the better duties. You forgive them quicker.
The problem with playing favorites, even if done unintentionally, is that it destroys morale on the team. Your staff sees it when it happens. Those that aren’t the favorites will either resent it or resign themselves to not feeling any need to improve.
Here are some ways Dana kept from playing favorites.
He made us all feel special. Dana went out of his way every day to praise everyone on the team both privately and publicly. He made sure you knew what you were doing well. He made sure everyone knew what you were doing spectacularly. That constant praise, especially in front of the group, of everyone meant that he valued us all equally.
He gave us all equal treatment in job assignments. Everyone got to lead. Everyone got the “shit detail.” Everyone got support roles. While it might be easiest to give all the solos to the best singer, Dana’s job was to turn us all into the best. He made sure we all got the chance to shine.
He was honest and honorable in his words. There was nothing he ever said to any of us that could not be repeated. He told us straight up when we screwed up (and made sure we learned from our mistakes). He only spoke in positive terms of growth and learning. He never gossiped.
If you’re playing mind games with your team; if you’re keeping secrets within and from your team; if you’re gossiping about team members to other team members, you’re creating a culture of favoritism. Take it from Dana. If you want a crack team from top to bottom, you need to keep favoritism off the table.
PS If you only feel like you can do one thing, do the first one listed above. Make every single individual on your team feel special and important and noticed. Praise them constantly both publicly and privately. You will change the culture almost instantly.
PPS I am a big believer in the ideal of “best players play”. Retail isn’t little league where everyone gets a medal for participation. But it also isn’t the Major Leagues where you better be ready when you get there. Your job as manager is to teach people up and get them all to play like all-stars. When Dana gave us activities to lead, he first made sure we had the skills to lead.