Attributes of Leadership – A Keen Sense of Justice


Without a sense of fairness and justice, no leader can command and retain the respect of his or her followers – Napoleon Hill

Statue of Justice[This is the second in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]

A sense of justice is not about law (although they certainly influence it), nor is it about sentiment (even though that factors in as well). Debra S. Emmelman, in reviewing Markus Dirk Dubber’s book The Sense of Justice: Empathy in Law and Punishment, defines it as “a sentiment, or perhaps better stated, a sensibility about, consciousness of, or empathy with our fellow human beings as human beings equal to ourselves. Moreover, and quite possibly most importantly, it is the capacity to assess whether one person has treated another as an equal as well.  It is, in other words, a specific moral form of empathic role-taking.”

Thus, you need a well-developed understanding of what is right and have an unfailing commitment towards holding yourself and those around you to that standard.

We’re all outraged at flagrant violations of justice. The recent bombings at the Boston Marathon and the triple homicide that took place just blocks from my home here in Brooklyn, NY sent ripples of shock, disbelief, and anger throughout the country in the former case and all around my community in the latter. That’s our sense of justice at work. The challenge comes, however, when dealing with “small” matters. For example, how do you deal with that co-worker or teammate that you aren’t “feeling”? You don’t hate them, but just don’t like being around them. So, when having to choose someone for a project, do you give them due consideration, or assign things based on whether or not you’ll spend time in this particular person’s company for extended periods? That leads to another question: Do you hold yourself to the same standards you apply to someone else? If the above scenario comes across your desk and you’re asked to mediate, what would you tell the person with the misgivings about their co-worker? Do you operate according to the same advice you hand out? The answers to those questions reveal a lot about our sense of justice.

Why is a Keen Sense of Justice Important?

Justice, and its related quality of fairness, is critical to being an effective leader. As Napoleon Hill stated above, no leader retains his or her followers unless he or she demonstrates the quality of justice. If you can’t deal with others in a consistent, ethical manner, then you’re not cut out for a leadership role.

Yet developing this quality is easier said than done. What are some principles that can help? Gerald Gillis discussed developing fairness in his article Leadership Traits – Fairness. In it, he outlined the following four points to developing the quality of fairness. They apply equally well to developing our sense of justice:

  • Avoid playing favorites. As in the example above, there are people we favor in life. That’s natural. However, if we allow such favoritism to govern our actions, then it works against us; and must hold it in check. A scriptural example is the apostle Peter. He helped open up the expansion of Christianity to Gentiles when he witnessed to and baptized the household of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. Yet later, after many congregations formed with both Jewish and Gentile Christians, Peter chose to separate himself from his Gentile brothers when visitors from the congregation in Jerusalem (apparently Judaizers, who felt that salvation depended on adhering to the Mosaic covenant) arrived. He did so in a mistaken attempt to appease them instead of giving honor to both Jew and Gentile equally. The apostle Paul had to strongly correct Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). As leaders, it is imperative we avoid unfairly favoring one group or person over another.
  • Involve key stakeholders in major process changes. Growth involves change, and this often means revamping tried but outdated processes. A perfect example is communication. The day of using print media exclusively is gone. If you aren’t involved in social media, you’ll be left behind. While the need for change in this example is clear, involving key personnel and others affected by the change in the process is critical. This insures all buy into the changes, and avoid any being needlessly left out or blindsided when their responsibilities suddenly evolve.
  • Involve key stakeholders in the hiring process. Whether you’re discussing employees or subcontractors, personnel can make or break a business or operation. If the operation involves others, it’s imperative to include them in the hiring process. Since they ultimately work along with those hired/contracted, you want their input to insure those you bring on will fit well with your company’s culture in addition to having the needed skills to complete the task(s) at hand
  • Give credit liberally. People love recognition. It’s been said that babies cry for it and men die for it. Feeling unappreciated can lead to depression, loss of enthusiasm, and resentment among other things. Your organization does not function well if such feelings simmer just below the surface. An easy way to prevent such negativity from infecting your organization is being liberal in giving praise. A recent excerpt from delanceyplace.com commented on the connection between scientist that are Nobel laureates and their willingness to give credit to fellow researchers. Citing work by Harriet Zuckerman, a sociologist of science, it notes, “What she found was that Nobel laureates are first authors of numerous publications early in their careers, but quickly begin to give their junior colleagues first authorship. And this happens far before they receive the Nobel Prize.” The implication is clear; those recognized for great contributions in science often give credit freely. That’s a clue for all of us.

A keen sense of justice is essential for leaders. Though not necessarily innate, you can develop it. Doing so makes it easier for others to follow you, which lets you accomplish greater things than you could alone. So work on fine-tuning and consistently applying justice in a fair way and see your effectiveness improve.

Do you have challenges in demonstrating fairness? What are some ways you plan on addressing them? Leave your replies in the Comments below.

8 thoughts on “Attributes of Leadership – A Keen Sense of Justice

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