Let’s discuss fairness as a character trait. Leaders who do not have fairness in their character may show favoritism, regard or judge with partiality, being a respecter of persons with their first thought to weigh who a person is. The character trait of fairness on the other hand, means first of all not to be a respecter of persons. This means having just and equitable dealings with all people. Judging accountability of all by the same standard, not favoring one party. It means to be free of favoritism. The United States Declaration of Independence states “all men are created equal.” This document is an expression of moral values. Not being a respecter of persons is so important to effective leadership that the United States Military Academy at West Point requires all first-year cadets to memorize Worth’s Battalion orders.

“But an officer on duty knows no one - to be partial is to dishonor both himself and the object of his ill-advised favor. What will be thought of him who exacts of his friends that which disgraces him? Look at him who winks at and overlooks offenses in one, which he causes to be punished in another, and contrast him with the inflexible soldier who does his duty faithfully, notwithstanding it occasionally wars with his private feelings. The conduct of one will be venerated and emulated, the other detested as a satire upon soldiership and honor.” ~Brevet Major William Jenkins Worth</i>

West Point asks all cadets (leaders in training) to not only memorize this concept, but to apply it. This is the essence of fair. This is the meaning to teach a child that someday may need to lead others.

Another way to reinforce this idea is to consider being on the receiving end of partiality. It could be frustrating, and would degrade the trust you felt in the leader behaving so.

The trait of fairness also means that any gain is earned without fraud, cheating or stealing. This is straightforward enough.

Although some have begun to look at this trait of fairness and to argue that it must mean a leader ensuring equal results to all who put in any effort, this line of thinking violates the Pareto principle, otherwise called the 80/20 rule. Juran called it the rule of the vital few. Zipf called it the principle of least effort.

The 80/20 rule means that a small number of causes, inputs, or effort usually leads to a majority of outputs, rewards, or results. It identifies a pattern of systematic and predictable lack of balance in the world. Richard Koch’s book, The 80/20 Principle states that understanding the 80/20 principle gives you great insight into what’s really happening in the world around you.

This principle of imbalance is seen so regularly in so many types of endeavors. For example, 20% of the sales people earn 80% of a company’s results. The actual percentages may vary somewhat, but the point is the efforts of a few get more results than many others in the same role. So is this fair? Not if you mean all the sales people get the same pay. How would that be fair to the few who bring in so much of the organization’s results? It may be easier, but not fair. Fair would be that they all get the same commission structure. Fair would be that they all are held to the same standards. Imbalance in results is a pattern of life, validated by many (read Koch’s book). We are indeed all created equal in dignity and human worth, but not equally in ability, talent, persistence, etc.

Be careful how you teach fairness to children. Indoctrination in a particular political persuasion is not character development. Most people thought the world was flat at one point in time. How did this belief help them navigate? Align with truth as you discern it. Someone once warned not to confuse the scaffolding of theory for the building of truth. The scaffolding moves around as we learn more about the world. The building doesn’t move.

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KW Lanham



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