Equal TreatmentToday, I am delighted to open my column to Mike Dugan. Mike is a fellow consultant who operates out of my region of coastal Virginia. He describes himself as an outsourced VP of Sales for small to medium size business with $ 1M to $ 25M in revenue. Thanks to 25 years of sales experience, Mike works with clients and builds their path to sales revenue growth. He also provides oversight of sales team. Mike is a veteran of the Navy where he served for 8 years.

Here’s Mike’s take on a common question of management and leadership: Should we treat every employee the same? Of course, the answer is more nuanced than a yes/no.


This was 1993. I was new to leadership in civilian life.  I had been a leader in the Military for 8 years and had experience leading sailors.  But civilian leadership felt different somehow. My boss in civilian life was different too.  As our Divisional V.P. he led four Regional Managers like me. I, in turn, supervised 10 account managers directly.

Bob was my boss.  A good guy, and a great boss, in most respects.  He did his job very well. In fact, he was ranked the #1 V.P in the company the prior year.  He seemed to get the most out of his people. I watched Bob and tried to learn from him. When I asked Bob “What’s the secret to your success?”  He replied quickly “That’s easy Mike. Simply treat everyone the same. Play no favorites. Treat everyone as equals”. That seemed to make sense at first, but when I thought longer about it – I became confused.


While I agree we don’t want to “play favorites”, I do believe all people are uniquely different.  Each person is as different as their imitable fingerprint. Therefore, what motivates one person will likely not motivate another person.  We all have different hot-buttons. We all come from different backgrounds. And we all have our own unique baggage. As an example: some folks may be motivated by an invitation to speak in public to 200 of their peers as subject matter expert. While others may not find that motivating at all, due to their fear of public speaking.


Still, I wasn’t sure it was right to treat everyone differently.  That didn’t seem completely fair and could easily be misconstrued by others.  The right answer was evading me.


I slept on it.  The next morning it came to me!  It’s not about treating people “the same” or treating them “differently.” Instead, it’s about holding everyone accountable to the same STANDARDS.  Each individual must be measured against a common standard and held accountable for their performance to that standard.


The important differentiator is “how we motivate and lead” each unique individual to that “same standard”.  Yes, we need to hold everyone accountable to the same standard – but our way of accomplishing that for each individual we are asked to lead – is as unique as the person herself!  Yes, we coach and motivate people differently! That’s OK. In fact, that good!


Everyone has different motivations and hot-buttons.  Everyone is unique, and therefore they have unique motivators.  A strong leader seeks to understand each individual on her team.  The research tells us that great leaders know the individual motivators of each and every member of their team.  But don’t be confused. Accountability is extremely important. And great leaders also hold all members of the team (most importantly themselves) to the SAME STANDARD.  Motivating others differently yet holding everyone on the team accountable to the same standards at not “mutually exclusive”. In fact, they go hand-in-hand for great leaders leading great teams.

Find more information on what Mike Dugan’s sales leadership can do for your business here.