The Single Worst Mistake That a Manager Can Make

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Mar 11, 2015

Leni and Lou are fraternal twins. They were born  three minutes apart, eat the same food every meal, and sleep in the same room. But aside from their DNA, they are as different as night is from day.

While Lou yearns to be outdoors with a ball in her hand, Leni would walk past five balls, two hula hoops and a jump rope to get inside to her crayons.

The pair are my 3-year-old granddaughters, and they are as close to angels as anything I’ve ever seen.

In a few years when they start school, I pray their teacher(s) won’t treat them like everybody else; because they’re not. They’re not even like each other.

You gotta be passionate to be great

If a fundamental goal of education is to help each student to find, develop, and maximize his/her own individual potential so that each can be successful, then the biggest mistake any teacher could make is to assume that Leni and Lou are the same, put them in the same classes, and teach them the same way. To do so will virtually guarantee that one will always be lagging behind and the other will be bored to tears.

The quality of their instruction matters, but only to a degree. Leni could spend a year with Usain Bolt as her private coach, and she’s never going win the state track meet. Bev Doolittle could tutor Lou for the same period but it’s unlikely that she’ll ever have her paintings hanging in an art gallery.

Each can and will get better at the other’s forte, but neither will ever become great at what they’re not passionate about.

Eric Chester's twin granddaughters
Eric Chester’s twin granddaughters

Extrapolate this a dozen years down the road. Imagine both apply and are hired in the same restaurant at age 16. With the same last name and birthday, will their manager assume they are basically the same person, put them both through the same training program, and then expect that both will excel at the same rate doing the same job for the same compensation?

If so, he won’t have any better results than a substitute geometry teacher.

Everyone is unique and different

Stop. This isn’t about fraternal twins, identical twins, or sisters. It’s about people. And no two of us are the same, even if we’re related.

We often forget that everyone we employ comes into our workplace with a set of talents, skills, and abilities that are as unique to them as their fingerprints. What’s more, those individuals (even those that came out of the same womb just moments apart) are each motivated by a completely different set of criteria and require “special handling” and one-to-one coaching to reach their potential and to meet your expectations.

That’s why leadership makes such a powerful difference.

Your greatest successes come when you treat everyone differently, while being fair to all. So remember to take the time to recognize the individual that’s living inside each of your employees and work to unlock those talents in a way that makes the most sense for your business. Only then will the passion begin to pour out of them in a way that serves your interests, and theirs.


Stop striving for equality in your workplace. Top performers will quit jobs where they are treated the same as everyone else.

Conversely, poor performers will never leave a job or improve at one where they get the same treatment, the same opportunities and the same outcomes as those who excel.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s blog Chester on Point

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