Best boss you ever had? Cared.

Worst boss you ever had? Wasn’t fair.

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The most beneficial caring fair leaders

Ask anyone to describe the best boss they’ve ever had. If they’ve had a great one, they are likely to light up and say something like:

“She cared about me as a person.”

“He asked me what I wanted to do long term and then worked with me to build the strengths I needed to have to get there.”

It’s engrained. People gravitate towards people that care about them. If you want people to care about you, care about them. Get to know them as people. Get to know what matters to them, to their families, to the people they care about. Then let that inform the way you treat them.

Fair is a hygiene factor. You don’t get any extra credit for being fair. But you can’t be the best if you’re not fair.

The most destructive unfair, uncaring leaders

Ask people to describe their worst boss. They’ll physically retract as though expecting a blow. Then you’ll hear stories like:

“He’d wait until the end of the day to give me long assignments due first-thing the next morning. Then he wouldn’t look at them until the afternoon.”

“She kept changing her mind. I’d do a bunch of work. Then she’d decide it wasn’t what she wanted and have me do it over in a completely different direction.”

“Everything I did was bad. He must have had something against me. If another colleague and I handed in the same work product, theirs was great and mine was rubbish.”

The thing about hygiene factors like being fair is that no one thinks about them if they are satisfied, but they overwhelm everything else if they’re not satisfied.

You have to be fair. You have to be perceived as fair. If not, people will run.

To be clear, “fair” is not the same as “equal.” You don’t have to treat everyone the same. You should nurture and reward your high performers. Just make sure everyone understands the criteria you’re using.

Fair, but uncaring leaders

Fair, but uncaring leaders don’t really do much damage. But they don’t do much good. They’re perceived as disengaged. They don’t inspire people. It’s almost like they’re not even there.

The issue here is more opportunity cost than anything else. If the team didn’t have a leader, it could self-manage or a natural leader might emerge. An uncaring leader prevents others from stepping up.

Caring, but unfair leaders

Caring, but unfair leaders are perceived as deceptive. They say the right things and then do the wrong things. People figure out pretty quickly that they are unfair and stop trusting them. And you can’t lead without trust.

How do you rate?

If you don’t believe you need to be fair, stop reading now. I can’t help you. You’re playing a different game. Good luck to you. While unfair, uncaring leaders are downright destructive and unfair, caring leaders are deceptive, the difference is not material. No one’s going to follow an unfair leader for very long.

If you are fair, but either don’t care or come across as uncaring, there’s hope for you. You should care. Caring is good. Either make yourself care about the good you can do for others or how you can help people get better in your current role or find another role you do care about.

Leadership is about inspiring, enabling and empowering others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. Start with the purpose. Find an organization with a purpose you care about. Then find people to work with that you care about. Then you’ll find it easy to care about inspiring, enabling and empowering them. They’ll be happier. You’ll be happier.

In either case, you’re not done when the checklist is done. Keep learning. Keep adjusting. Click here for a categorized list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #840) I focus on executive onboarding and transition acceleration. Click on these links for free executive summaries of my books: “The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan” and “The Merger & Acquisition Leader’s Playbook Follow me on Twitter.