Don’t Treat Everyone Equally – Week 4

You’ve heard that managers should treat everyone equally. You’ve also heard that people can accomplish anything they set their minds to. Furthermore, you’ve been told that people can have unlimited potential.

All three of these statements are false.

Stay with me for a moment, now. You probably don’t believe me, and I understand why. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t have believed myself until just recently. But grant me a moment to explain the reasoning behind my conclusion, and let me begin that explanation by asking you a question: have you ever deeply considered what these three statements imply? Let’s examine the first statement for a second: “managers should treat everyone equally.” By saying that managers should treat everyone equally, we are assuming that everyone is equal. Now, of course, we know that the worth of all people is equal, but we walk a fine line with these statements as they can often lead us to the false determination that all people are the same. Should managers treat every employee the same, when each individual is just that: an individual? Each person brings different motivations, strengths, weaknesses, goals, experiences, aspirations, knowledge – the list goes on and on. If a manager speaks to 18-year-old college freshmen the same way that she speaks to a 70-year-old senior, her communication may not be as effective as possible. Instead, having the flexibility to adapt in the way we interact and treat people can make a huge difference in the motivation and productivity of our employees. Since we can now see how treating employees differently can be good, let’s examine the wording of our next two conventional wisdom statements.

People (can’t) accomplish anything they set their minds to.

Can a sailfish fly? And can a peregrine falcon swim? No. But in their own specialty, each of these animals is amazing at what they do. The sailfish is the fastest fish in the ocean, and the peregrine falcon the fastest bird in the air. Their strengths and weaknesses are different from each other, but each of them can still be a champion in their own way. And you see, people are the same way. There are some people who cannot complete a complex math problem for the life of them. Yet tell them that they can do “anything” and they might just try to become someone that they are not. They might, like an unsatisfied falcon, try their hand at swimming. But this can lead to frustration and poor results when their struggle continues because of their weakness. Eventually, they begin questioning their abilities with thoughts that go along the lines of “why can’t I do this? Everyone said I could if I really wanted to, but I still can’t.” You can see how frustrating this could be, and maybe you’ve even been in a similar situation yourself where something was unreasonably expected of you. But now here’s the silver lining. Our friend in this example might be terrible at math, but excellent at, say, design. This is because we all have strengths and weaknesses, and instead of beating ourselves up to change our weaknesses, it’s usually a better option to focus on developing our strengths.

It’s all backed up with Gallup research.

In the book First, Break All The Rules, Gallup authors will tell you the very same things. Research shows that the best managers in the world do things differently and don’t listen to conventional wisdom like the statements at the beginning of this article. To put the moral of the story in a nutshell, the authors say that tens of thousands of the best managers all echo the following statement:

“People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”


Clifton, Don. (2010). First, Break All The Rules. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

What did you think? Leave some feedback! :)

7 thoughts on “Don’t Treat Everyone Equally – Week 4

  1. I have heard that managers should treat everyone equally. I have also heard that people can accomplish anything if they set their mind to it. I’ve also heard people say that others can have unlimited potential. I guess I would say it’s all relative. Relative to what is most important to an individual, and relative to where they are in their lives right now. I like your explanation of the uniqueness of talents individuals’ hold. It’s true that each body is able to be excellent at certain things, but not every body is perfect at the same things – that’s for sure. I like your description the sailfish being the fastest fish in the ocean, while the peregrine falcon is the fastest bird in the air. It’s true that their strengths and weaknesses are different from each other, and that’s what makes it great. The diversity is what makes us strong. Great topic to explore. Thanks Austin!

  2. My challenge to Clifton’s challenge to “conventional wisdom” is two fold.

    First managers have biases and are human. Too, they rarely recognize the power they have over employees. The danger is those biases are not based on fact. And without recognition of the power void they don’t see that feedback is probably not forthcoming, until the said employee quits. So my modification would be treat employees uniquely but be wary of personal biases and make sure you are a good listener and supportive of feedback, including non-verbal feedback.

    The second is that not everyone is the fastest fish or the bird. And the data for the value of deliberate practice and (the now trendy) “grit” [err, not quitting something until you realize you are not making any progress] is strong. So folks need a model that inspires and says “you can do it.” The contrasting model which says “you probably won’t make it” may be realistic but, if you don’t have an impressive core talent to fall back on or embellish it is potentially more destructive. There is value in journey even if you don’t get to the destination.

  3. I agree with the falsehood of these statements . When I started my mortgage company I went into it with not only treating everyone equally but actually thinking they would all give me the same work. I quickly learned that was not the case! I then realized I have to treat everyone different. I see this in my classroom teaching. I have some students that are academically challenged because of some type of disabliity and at the same time I have the students that have no struggle academically. I have to take how I teach this class to encompass all students.

    The second one, I too have learned the hardway. When I was in the mortgage business I thought that since I was great and successful in one area it would carry over into other areas. Wrong again. That was a valuable lesson. I couldn’t accomplish anything I set out to do. If one can realize this it is very humbling and realistically allow you to move forward to lead a happy successful life.

    Third, yes in mortgage company I soon realized people don’t change much no matter how much you work with them. I could have saved myself alot of heartache if I had realized this sooner.


  4. I agree with you and the author. Each person is different and managers need to take that into account. It’s like each child of a parent is different and needs to be treated as such. We call can’t do everything. I feel that finding the strengths of a person and playing to those makes life/work much more pleasant. It also ensures tasks get done by those who are best qualified, ensuring high quality work.

  5. Austin Great Post,

    I can honestly say I would not treat each of my staff the same, as a Manger of business owner we champion each of our employees, to their best, but in retrospect if one is doing better we tend to lean more their way. I believe each one of us need to know our strengths and weaknesses of our staff so that we can prays them for the accomplishments that they contribute to the organization. The organization should be built own a team foundation and as we all know on a team everyone doesn’t have the same job, and sometimes status.


  6. Great post! I think that we say those things all the time and we don’t fully listen to what we say, right? Yes, we should treat everyone equally, I totally agree. But, like you mentioned, a manager will talk to baby boomers different than the millennials, and we accept that. You have to be the top decision maker and do what’s best/right in the situation and circumstance.

  7. Love the quote at the end! All of what you said was true and when I read the first statement I was thinking that’s not true at all; especially since we have multigenerational employees in the workplace. Their skills, communication and work ethic sway to different ends of the pendulum. We can treat everyone fair and that is according to the person. My mind set for customer service isn’t the norm “the customer is always right.” I say instead, “We can work this out.” That mindset gives me room for a wrong to be right and create a win-win for both parties.

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