Balancing fair and equal

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. John Gregg
  • 17th Medical Operations Squadron

The fundamental goal of a Command Team should be to establish an organizational climate that is balanced with both fair and equal treatment of all its members. This just climate enables morale to grow and it starts with Airmen understanding the balance between fair treatment and equal treatment.

Fair is often not equal treatment, but rather giving what is needed. Fair treatment is defined as, “the quality of treating people in a way that is right and reasonable.” To put fairness into practice, we must look at the entirety of a situation and weigh all matters and possible resolutions. Both rewards and punishments can miss the mark if not applied with fairness in the equation. The application of fair will not lead you to the same conclusion for all Airmen.

Equal treatment, on the other-hand, is defined as, “the concept that all people are equal as regards to their rights.” This is a cornerstone of MEO/EEO and serves as the backdrop for a Command Team to build morale and unit cohesion through a consistently dignified and respectful organizational climate.

Knowing the definition of fair and equal treatment is helpful but knowing how to apply it with balance can make all the difference to a follower’s leadership perception. To help understand the difference, let us look at a scenario.

Commander X, has Airman A who was cited for DUI 3 years ago and received an Article 15, LOR, reduction in rank, and suspended forfeiture of pay. Airman A was considered to be an otherwise good Airman.
Commander X has a second Airman, Airman B, who was also cited for a DUI and received Article 15, LOR, forfeiture of pay, 45 days extra duty. Airman B was also considered to otherwise be a good Airman.

Why was the rank not taken from Airman B? The difference in punishment was Commander X considered the long term effects of all the punishments and after review of all the facts of the case did NOT remove Airman B’s rank. The commander knew that by taking Airman B’s rank now, Airman B would be ineligible for reenlistment in 2 years due to insufficient TIG. Effectively ending Airman B’s career while Airman A would still be serving.

As you can see, there was equal application of a standard to both Airmen but the difference was how the punishment was considered and subsequently applied. Commander X exercised a sound balance of fair and equal and came to a decision that, while controversial, was the best for the Air Force and Airman B. Had the commander applied excessive equality with the situation an Airman would have lost their career unintentionally. Overemphasizing equality can lead to decisions that are not best for the mission and Airmen. To better understand this we should look at an example of overemphasized equal treatment.

In AFI 36-2803, the Air Force clearly outlines criteria for decorations. Sometimes the principle of equal overshadows fairness. This is evident when regardless of position, duties and contribution, all ranks are given the same award. Overemphasizing equality can eat away at trust, loyalty, and commitment and diminish the distinction of a particular award or decoration.

Just treatment is a fair and equal process that is thorough and takes into account the situation, impact of actions (long and short term), motivators, and the purpose of the chosen course of action. Obtaining as much information as possible will ensure the best decision will be made. In the end, the most reasonable course of action will be decided to achieve the outcome desired.

Just treatment is set in the climate and must be unwavering, in most cases this is ingrained in a Command Team’s message. The commander sets priorities and expectations and then states how to achieve those. If fairness and equality are rooted to those priorities, a just climate can take hold.