American Univesity of Beirut

Achieving Success Through Fair Process Leadership

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​At a time when uncertainty continues to prevail, executives today need strong visionary leadership, and high-potential senior managers need to have good management acumen. Disruptive technologies continue to underpin major challenges, along with uncertain and volatile environments. To survive, it all comes down to the people, their values, and the culture within organizations. Leaders need to create a future that works for all stakeholders, empowering the younger generation, and those closest to the customer.

Senior executives have power that can create value, or destroy it. Their leadership style can create an environment that gives people the chance to grow, to give their best, or it can create a toxic workplace, where people are treated badly and unfairly, where people are unhappy. What differentiates such leaders depends, in part, on their equa​nimity. Leaders who are sound and stable often build companies where the rules make sense to everybody, enabling people to focus on performing their jobs well. However, if the leader's psychological state is twisted then strategies, ideas, interactions, and even the systems and structure of the organization will reflect his or her prejudices. Change can often be an uphill battle, since lots of leaders support and even encourage bias behavior. However, organizations do not have to be captive to such ways of leadership if they develop and instill fair processes, and play by rules that encourage growth and progress ​for all.

Fair process leadership to achieve superior business results.
​Fair process impacts peoples' behaviors significantly, and is critical in motivating performance. It builds trust, creates transparency, and unlocks ideas. The virtues of fairness are most easily argued by invoking cases of non-fair play. Bias for short-term gain, against certain people or for certain issues, always leads to friction, as is a lack of transparency, censured speech, rigidity of stance, and suspicion of hidden or personal agendas. All these negatively impact performance in the work place, creating an environment of distrust, and a lack of loyalty. Companies need leaders to build trust and commitment to enable voluntary cooperation, this leads people to go the extra mile willingly, sharing their knowledge and applying their creativity.

We all know and can recognize intuitively what fairness is, so why is it so rare?
According to professor Ludo Van der Heyden, it is rare because “some managers continue to believe that knowledge is power and that they retain power only by keeping what they know to themselves. Their implicit strategy is to preserve their managerial discretion by deliberately leaving the rules for success and failure vague. Other managers maintain control by keeping employees at arm's length, substituting memos and forms for direct, two-way communication, thus avoiding challenges to their ideas or authority. Such styles can reflect deeply ingrained patterns of behavior, and rarely are managers conscious of how they exercise power. For them, fair process would represent a threat". A second reason, Van der Heyden says is “largely unconscious because it resides in an economic assumption that most of us have grown up taking at face value: the belief that people are concerned only with what's best for themselves. But, as we have seen, there is ample evidence to show that when the process is perceived to be fair, most people will accept outcomes that are not wholly in their favor. People realize that compromises and sacrifices are necessary on the job. They accept the need for short-term personal sacrifices in order to advance the long-term interests of the corporation. Acceptance is conditional, however, hinged as it is on fair process."

Fair process is not about giving people the authority they deserve, or the resources they need. It is not about producing fair outcomes. Fair process is about engagement (involving individuals in the decisions that affect them by asking for their input, and allowing them to refute the merits of one another's ideas and assumptions); explanation (everyone involved and affected should understand why final decisions are made as they are); and expectation clarity (once a decision is made, managers state clearly the new rules of the game).

By building fair process into the fabric of companies, leaders can create environments of trust and commitment, environments where people are happy to work and belong. Fair process leadership, therefore, is a way to achieve success because leaders today not only need to have the ability to attract, develop, and retain the quality of talent needed to achieve the business objectives, but also need to engage with the younger generation, who want to be heard around a compelling vision.

© 2020 American University of Beirut, Olayan School of Business. All rights reserved.

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