Fairness Is Overrated

It's one of the most often repeated phrases a parent hears for the first eight or ten years of a kid’s life: “That’s not fair!” As parents, we become arbiters of spats over toys, time, who goes first, how the food is divided, who has to go to bed first, whose turn it is on the video game, and a hundred other daily disputes over fairness. We try to walk the line of making sure our little kids aren’t being bullied or mistreated by the older kids, while at the same time teaching them life lessons such as life isn’t fair.

When it comes to the business or church world, as leaders we should not make fairness a priority. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? In an age of political correctness and tolerance, it seems wrong to admit that some things aren’t fair. But fairness is overrated.

  • In the church, we aren’t fair about what gets promotion or marketing space. Some departments or upcoming events get priority.

  • We aren’t fair about which events get facility space.

  • Jesus wasn’t fair when he chose to spend most of his time with his twelve disciples. Furthermore, he wasn’t fair when he chose three disciples above the rest of them.

  • As a leader, I’m not fair with my time. Some people can call and get time with me at a moment’s notice. Other people can’t. That’s not fair.

  • We aren’t fair when we determine what gets put into the budget and what doesn’t.

  • I’m not fair with my influence. I focus a great deal of my influence with some people, and none at all with other people.

  • We aren’t fair with our compensation. Through a fairness filter, it may appear that two people have the same position, have been on staff the same amount of time, and have the same education and expertise. Yet because of capacity, potential, replacement cost, or the value they add to our company, their salaries might be different.

    We make decisions based on priority, not fairness. We filter discussions through our mission and values, not whether it is fair. We determine budget dollars and facility requests through our purposes, not whether someone will get his or her feelings hurt.

    If you think through your own choices, I would guess you aren’t fair either. For example, I’m not fair with the time I spend with women. My wife gets a disproportionate percentage of my time. I do not apologize for that. I do not try to balance or give other women equal time.

    Also, there are four kids on this planet with whom I spend more time than any other kids. They are Heather, Megan, Hunter, and Taylor. It isn’t fair that I don’t spend as much time with Tommy or Ashley or Jake—but I don’t care. Because they aren’t my children. I’ll be nice to them, and they can come by the house anytime—but I’m going to unfairly spend most of my time with my kids.

    Don’t confuse fairness with justice. Justice is about doing what is right. Fairness means everyone gets exactly the same thing.

You may have heard this story from the Bible. A businessman hired a group of laborers to work in his field at 9:00 a.m. They negotiated and agreed upon a price. This same businessman hired workers again at noon, 3:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. Each time he offered them a wage and they agreed. At the end of the day, the workers hired first saw that those hired throughout the day were getting the same amount of money, even though they worked for fewer hours.

Was that fair? Not at all. Fairness would have dictated the same hourly rate. It was not fair, but it was just. They all got exactly what they agreed to. And it was up to the businessman to decide. No one was mistreated.

Do not apologize for not being fair.

However, don’t stretch this principle to discrimination. If someone is denied time, attention, promotion, or pay because of his or her skin color or gender, that is discrimination—and that is not just or fair. And as Christian leaders, we should stand against it.

Read more in Fairness is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace

Tim StevensComment