The Business of Playing Favorites

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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L.L. here, remembering my rocking days. I'm talking about first grade. Me and old Mrs. Serafin. I don't know why this teacher did what she did. Maybe she sensed I came from a difficult place, mile by mile over country roads, slowly finding my school face on the way-- a smile to say everything's okay. It wasn't. Did Mrs. Serafin know? Or maybe she liked to recall moments of her own parenthood. Or maybe she didn't even have children, but she found who she wanted in a little girl she could fit on her broad lap and rock. To my recollection, Mrs. Serafin did this every day-- take me in her arms and sing "Rock-a-Bye Baby" and rock me in front of the class. I am probably making up the frequency part. I am not making up the rocking and singing. When we were finally grown, my lifelong best girlfriend told me she was absolutely overcome with jealousy when Mrs. Serafin rocked me. I felt bad about that, but not bad enough to wish away the past-- a comforting teacher who seemed to be playing favorites. Some of us have strong feelings about the idea of playing favorites. It seems, well, just so unfair. But Buckingham and Coffman note that the best managers spend more time and energy on certain employees-- their top performers. They assert, "If love is not the opposite of hate, then surely indifference is the opposite of both. If you spend the most time with your worst performers, the message you are sending your employees is that 'the better your performance becomes, the less time and attention you will receive from me.'" "So spend the most time with your top performers," they conclude. "Pay attention to them. Be fair to the right people." In this way, a manager is more likely to learn from the best people and reach excellence regarding objectives. The idea is also to continue to free these top performers to stretch and achieve. It may seem counterintuitive to spend less time with strugglers and more time with top performers, but that's what great managers do. I confess I would be hard pressed to single out top performers on my own team. It's a great team, each person bringing his or her unique talents to build up the whole. And as long as I don't have to sing "Rock-a-Bye-Baby," that's a comfort. Doors photo by Amy Lynas. Used with permission. Post by L.L. Barkat, as part of a continuing series on the book First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently