Fair Is Not Always Fair

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 7.31.43 AMI was sitting in a meeting with one of my clients as he was going through the details of a merger between his company and another big company. The merger was going to make big news once it happened. But for now we were still in the negotiation phase and it was rapidly coming to a close.

At the end of a long week of meetings everyone was looking forward to getting this merger done. As the meeting was coming to a close on the last day, the CEO of the other company got up and addressed my client:

“The way this merger is going to work,” he said, “is if you do your part, then I will do my part. But if you don’t do your part—if you think you will screw with me—take note that I will screw with you even more.” He ended his passionate mini-speech by saying, “Treat me fairly and I will treat you fairly.”

I looked at my client to see what he thought, but his face registered no emotion.

Everyone then left the room. I looked at my client and said, “This merger cannot go through.”

He said, “I know.”

You might be thinking the passionate speech was fair, that as long as my client treated him fairly then all would be well but if my client would treat him unfairly all war would be on.

Sometimes fair is not fair at all.

Fair is not fair when you are cultivating a relationship. Being fair in a relationship does not always work; sometimes one person gives more than other, sometimes one person works harder than the other. And being in a relationship where the attitude is to give each just what is fair is not enough. If you are going to partner, you want to give more than what is fair. You want to give more than expected, to do what is right—not what is fair.

Successful leaders care about people and go the extra mile.

Fair is not fair when you are counting your deeds. If you are in a partnership or relationship were every deed is accounted for and tallied up, you will never get far. For companies to thrive, for leadership to work, you have to give back better than what you have been given and you have to stop counting your deeds. You have to give because you want to give and not worry about what you will get back in return.

Successful leaders give back more than they have been given.

Fair is not fair when we are being human. Human beings make mistakes. That is a part of life and it is most certainly part of business. When we make mistakes we want to know that someone will be there to help us, not get back at us or punish us. If we do something wrong or if we mess up we want someone in our lives to teach us, support us, guide us, not punish us. We want grace and mercy. And the same is true if it’s the other way around. When someone in your life makes a mistake, you don’t want to go for eye-for-an-eye. You want to be able to understand and forgive. It is not about getting even, but about learning from each other.

Successful leaders are patient in the face of mistakes—their own and other people’s—and try to learn from them.

Fair is not fair in dependency. If you have a relationship or partnership grounded in dependency, you have a relationship that will fail. If you will be good to me only if you believe I am being good to you, and you are willing to punish me any time you think I’ve treated you badly, then our relationship is neither good nor fair.

Successful leaders see leadership as a way of growing and learning, and not taking and punishing.

Being fair is good but it does not always work—not in business, not in partnerships, and not in relationships. What does work is giving the best of what you have to offer and investing your time and energy in supportive partnerships that help you grow and develop even more.

LEAD FROM WITHIN: Fair is not always fair. Sometimes it’s about doing what is right.


N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R

The Leadership Gap
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Additional Reading:

At The Risk Of Being Changed

• The Power Of Parting: 7 Things You Need To Stop Doing 

Lead From Where You Are And With All That You 

The Wisdom Of Whole Hearted Leading

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Naomi Dinsmore

    03. Nov, 2015

    Wow, the CEO from the other company sounds… ‘lovely’,

    The problem with fair is that it’s everybody else’s definition of it. The CEO may want the better deal, for less work and consider it to be fair.

    I don’t see myself ever becoming a CEO of a huge multi million pound company because the way they treat customers is everything I stand against. It’s the attitude of… “profit above everything”.

    I like that you said you should do what is right, because if you go within, it’s easier to make a decision based on what’s right rather than what’s fair.

    Thanks Lolly


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  2. Eddie

    03. Nov, 2015

    Great article- anyone approaching a relationship with a ” me first” attitude is going to fail. I suppose you can do business without good relationships- but it’s a lot more fun with them

    Reply to this comment
  3. Leslie Fritz

    03. Nov, 2015

    “What does work is giving the best of what you have to offer and investing your time and energy in supportive partnerships that help you grow and develop even more.”

    Perfectly to the point! Relationships are strongest when we are both giving our best, but doling out our efforts dependent on how much we perceive we are getting in return is weakening.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Duncan - Vetter

    06. Nov, 2015

    Fairness is a delicate issue in the business world. So-called partners are ready to turn from best friends into the worst enemies overnight because it is fair. Just as you said, sometimes you need to be willing to offer more than you should in order to see positive results. And this is a thing leaders need to keep in mind.

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  5. Eullah

    19. Dec, 2015

    You are a great writter. I am a big fan and follower of you. I got 2 questions here:

    1. If I want to do all good things and which is right but continuously see that my boss is grabbing all the credit and always inteding to punish me for every silly mistakes (which was not exactly my mistakes) how should I act and react then ?? I can accept all those screaming and yelling if anyone make sense.

    2. If I get a co-worker who lies and self-contradictory, how should I deal with them ??

    Reply to this comment
    • Marc Zazeela

      17. Apr, 2017


      It sounds like it might be time to look for a new place to work.


      Reply to this comment
  6. Marc Zazeela

    15. Apr, 2017

    Great story Lolly.

    In order for any partnership/relationship to work, both side must be successful. In order for that to happen, both sides must be committed to each others’ success. I have to do everything I can to ensure your success. When that happens, I am successful, too.

    Keeping score never works. Ever.


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