Seeing Beyond The Myth Of Fairness: Your Key To Business Leadership Success
Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan and Shannon Waller
The world has become more competitive, and many people are focused on the concept of fairness. In this episode, business coaches Dan Sullivan and Shannon Waller explain what fairness really means and what every entrepreneur needs to understand to avoid certain dangers.
Here's some of what you'll learn in this episode:
The different definitions of “fairness.”
Why you shouldn’t compare yourself to others.
How there’s a touch of envy in talking about fairness.
How to recognize your uniqueness and avoid false comparisons.
No one knows what it’s like to be someone else.
Who you are can be modified by who other people are.
Reactive and creative are opposites.
The word “fairness” is a fairly recent creation.
The present understanding of fairness touches on equality.
Fairness is a social term, not a descriptive term.
A lot in our world supports the fact that things should be fair.
Uniqueness means looking inside and knowing who you are.
If you’re looking for fairness, you can’t find out who you are.
Shannon Waller: Hi, Shannon Waller here, and welcome to Inside Strategic Coach with Dan Sullivan. Dan, we've been having a lot of really interesting conversations, particularly about your latest book, which is the "Geometry" For Staying Cool and Calm, which we'll touch on. But you made another comment in a workshop the other day, and you said, "It's not about fairness, it's about uniqueness." And we're living in a fairly chaotic time at the moment. Any perspective on history would reveal that, but in current times, it's kind of a little wackadoo, to use my technical term, but I love your comment, "It is not about fairness, it's about uniqueness." So let's dive into that, because this touches on the book, but it's a way of looking at the world that's much more calming, it's much more lucid, it gives people confidence as opposed to getting all kind of freaked out all the time. So let's dive into this. I'm curious, what do you mean by, "It's not about fairness, it's about uniqueness"?
Dan Sullivan: Well, the word fairness is fairly recent in history. So if you check the Oxford English Dictionary, which is the history of all English words, 1307, something like that. And what I mean by fairness, that fairness has several meanings. One of them is a physical description, that's a fair person, and it was meant as a compliment, a fair-looking person, but it was always meant as a compliment of someone's good looks, or not that they treated other people well, they just came across as fair, usually applied to women, by the way. She was a fair-looking maid. But the present understanding of fairness touches on equality, equalness, and it's a social term, not a descriptive term, but I think why it's so recent in history, because how we understand fairness today is because so much in our world supports the fact that things should be fair.
And I think the reason is that in certain sense, the world has become more competitive and you can spend your whole life doing self-comparisons of your situation with other people's situation. Also, there's implied that you can really improve yourself on a continual basis, and other people are doing a better job of it than you are. So just to get across, the central idea here is that 2000 years ago, nobody talked about fairness in the way we do. You had to have the opportunity for people to actually improve themselves and to gain in capability and gain in advantages and gain in results. And the more that's possible for individuals, then certain people who feel that they're not succeeding will bring in fairness that it's not fair that you should have this, and there's a touch of envy about that.
But that's where you're constantly looking outside of yourself and making comparisons to how you feel you are. Uniqueness is looking inside and knowing who you are. So you're not comparing yourself to other people, you're simply looking inside things that you do uniquely well, and they match up with this type of situation. So that's the general tenor of my thought about that. If you're looking for fairness, you can't find out who you are because you're always doing self-comparison, and usually you're coming up on the short end.
Shannon Waller: Well, comparison is the thief of joy. Isn't that famous?
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. Someone said that. It's credited to about 10 different people. So I'm not sure who actually said it.
Shannon Waller: I really need to go look it up right now. It's so true. So that's fascinating, Dan, that if you're looking outside, it actually prevents you from discovering what is unique about you, and your statement, looking inside and knowing who you are is really the definition of uniqueness. So really it's a whole different perspective shift to really look inside. So it's kind of fascinating because if someone's complaining all the time about life's not fair, shouldn't have happened to me, they're jealous and envious, and I want to talk about the distinction between the two, but that actually prevents their growth, prevents the very thing that they are noticing in other people.
Dan Sullivan: Because first of all, they don't really know how other people are, so they don't know what it's like to be inside someone else, but they're making, sort of saying, that we're comparing inside how you feel with outside how they look. You're making a comparison between two things that are radically different. Okay. So it's an interesting thing, but I just noticed that the technologies are there. I would use social media as the prime example here, that people are looking at people on Facebook or they're looking at them on Instagram, or they're looking at TikTok, and they're saying, "Wow, boy, I wish I were like that." Well, that immediately takes you away from knowing who you are, because you're imagining it, I mean, there's no reality to it whatsoever.
Shannon Waller: The whole thing of, social media especially, but there are other medias too. It's comparing other people's outsides to your inside, and it's not a healthy practice. Dan Sullivan: Well, you never come up with a happy conclusion when you do that. Shannon Waller: So Dan, what's the cost of someone focusing on that comparison? What's the expense- Dan Sullivan: Well, I think you're in perpetual reaction, for one thing. Reactive and creative use the same letters, but they have a totally different meaning. So all the letters in reactive are the same letters as in creative, but just the rearrangement of the letters gives a not only different, but I think just opposite meaning. It's an interesting thing. Happily enough for me, is that I grew up in a way that I was given an enormous amount of time on my own where I could just get to know myself really well, and I would say I'm almost 80, but I don't see much difference in how I experienced myself as when I was eight. Shannon Waller: That's interesting. Say more about that. Obviously you've evolved, your 10x when you were eight, Dan? Dan Sullivan: No, my experience of myself when I'm by myself is, I would say it's the same. It's just that I know a lot more, I've got a lot more skills, and I've got relationships that really multiply me. Personal relationships, business relationships that who I am can be multiplied by who other people are. And what I'm looking for is people who are really different. I'm not looking for the people who are the same. I've got same handled. Shannon Waller: I like that. And that works because you're unique. You're something worth multiplying. Someone worth multiplying. Dan Sullivan: Yeah. I mean, I can see situations where I was ignorant. I can see situations where I was deficient. I can see situations throughout my life where I guessed wrongly, I bet wrongly, but it was the same person doing all those things, and I was learning from all those things. And so there's a profile that we use in Strategic Coach called StrengthsFinder. One of the things about that, that I'm basically an idea guy. So if I put myself in a situation where coming up with new ideas is not recognized and supported and rewarded, that's a very, very unhappy situation for me. And I've learned never be in a situation where the thing that people value you most for isn’t coming up with new ideas.
Shannon Waller: So that only works because you have focused on your own uniqueness and growing and developing yourself.
Dan Sullivan: Yep.
Shannon Waller: Before we jump into how people can do that for themselves, Dan, let's talk about one of the terms that I use is crab in a bucket, which mean that don't get above yourself, don't rise too far, and it's that envy, which is interesting. So it's completely the opposite of uniqueness and thriving.
Dan Sullivan: Well, the other thing is-
Shannon Waller: It's a little more productive. Yes.
Dan Sullivan: No, it's 100% more productive.
Shannon Waller: Not a little, 100%. Okay, got it.
Dan Sullivan: Because envy has nothing good about it. Someone said, envy is drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Envy actually kills you. Whatever you have in yourself, you kill it off by being envious of other people. The interesting thing about this, envy was top of mind conversation for almost all of humanity, because there was such inequality and such unfairness, but people were fairly stuck socially. They were kind of stuck. If you were born into this setting that you were going to die in that setting, if you were born in this role, you were probably going to die in this role. And then all of a sudden, things broke open last couple hundred years, and envy was still used by authors, and it was used by people just observing, he had extreme envy. And then it stopped around 1850. I'm going to check. That's exactly the book.
Shannon Waller: So it's Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour by Helmut Schoeck, S-C-H-O-E-C-K, if anyone's curious.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, and it's interesting because it's got about 25 chapters in it, and each chapter is a standalone. So they would have envy in history, envy in literature, envy in politics. You could read each chapter, and it's sort of a complete thought, but the main character in each of the chapters is this human behavior and mindset called envy. And his theory, it's a theory, is that the use of envy as it was historically accepted, disappeared around the middle of the 1800s, and it disappeared into an organizational form called socialism. And socialism is to actually make sure things are even, not based on anything, except no one should get above themselves. It doesn't matter how talented you are, we're not going to let you get above yourself. We don't care how smart you are, we're not going to allow you. And what develops at the center is a powerful regulating bureaucracy. All socialism leads to bureaucracy.
Shannon Waller: Ooh, say that again.
Dan Sullivan: All regulation leads to bureaucracy.
Shannon Waller: I love that.
Dan Sullivan: If you're regulating so that people can't excel, they can't be extraordinary. You do that through bureaucratic means.
Shannon Waller: And bureaucracies don't want to die, as I learned from my PoliSci course.
Dan Sullivan: Well, bureaucracies at best should be temporary. They're dealing with some sort of situation that we don't have any other solution to. Like if you have extreme wealth and you don't have opportunity within that situation, then you're going to end up with a very stratified, static difference between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. For example, the Soviet Union was the biggest, deadliest, most destructive attempt to apply socialism to a vast country. And then it was so bad, it just disintegrated in 1991. But today, 95% of Russians are poorer than the bottom 10% of poor people in the United States. The top 10 poor people in the United States are wealthier than the 95% of the Russian population.
Shannon Waller: Wow. That's pretty poor. So institutionalized envy. That's a profound thought. Interesting.
Dan Sullivan: But going back, I've never seen anything to be gained by comparing myself to other people. And I think part of the reason is I never played or interacted with anyone my own age until I got to first grade, because I grew up on a farm. I had a birth order where it was just little Dan and his parents who, for me, they were perfect parents. They gave me a free hand. And what I learned to do was interact with adults way before I learned how to interact with children. And then when I finally had the opportunity to interact with other children, they didn't know anything. I couldn't learn anything from the other kids. So I immediately always went up to the people who are 20, 30, 40, in some cases, 70 years older. And I said, "What did they know?" But Shannon, you strike me as that sort of person too. Ever since I met you, and it's probably why it clicked between you and me, and Babs and you, and you and Strategic Coach, is that I just got a sense right off the bat that you were your own person.
Shannon Waller: Very much so, and I was raised that way. So it was very much raised on individuality, what I was interested in doing was validated, my feelings were validated, my parents didn't have any prescription for what I was going to do. They just wanted me to figure out what I was going to be up to in the world, so I didn't have to conform. I put it that way, which was really useful. And neither of us grew up in the age of social media. I mean, I grew up around kids, but we didn't have that blatant self-comparison opportunity that kids now do with social media, which is really interesting. And I've been trying to figure out a little bit about the rise of anxiety and-
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, well, it is, because ideals are being presented to you on social media. We find out, all of a sudden you have an influencer on social media who looks really well put together, who's very articulate, is incredibly popular, they have millions of followers, and then they commit suicide. We find out that as exotic and glamorous and happy that Hollywood actors are portrayed on the screen, their lives are a disaster. Their lives are a mess. And the reason is that they got hooked on being a celebrity. They got hooked on being an ideal that was only possible because of the backstage technologies of movie making, but it bore no resemblance to how they experienced themselves inside.
Shannon Waller: There's a personal experience in our friend group, friend of my daughter's, where brilliant, successful, literal rockstar isn't here anymore. And he had all the things, success, talent, good looks, great personality, but it's interesting. You'd think we would see his uniqueness on stage and you'd saw an element of it, but not that really validation of who he actually was. And I think people get caught up in that on a smaller scale, microscale and a macroscale. And it's pretty tragic to watch when somebody's 20 something. And besides, it's not worth it anymore.
Dan Sullivan: It's interesting, we've just come out with three major bestselling books, Who Not How, The Gap and the Gain, and 10x Is Easier Than 2x. And these all have a central theme of knowing who you are.
Shannon Waller: Yes. So what's the antidote to blaming, complaining, unfairness, getting trapped into that anxiety? Obviously it's not comparison, but what are some actions, Dan, that people can take to really nourish that internal conversation in relationship as opposed to being distracted by the outside?
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, I mean, we have a fairly systematic way of going about this. We have an unfair advantage because all the entrepreneurs we have in Strategic Coach already approved decades of success, that they know who they are, and they know that it's actually who they are, that's the reason for their success, and they've taken ownership for who they are. But what we find is that for the most of it, when they come into Strategic Coach, they've been fairly not aware of the basis for their success. They really don't know the reason why they are unusually better at what they do than other people. And what we do is we keep taking them back and showing them examples from childhood, from adolescence, from teenage years, that they've been developing this unique set of skills that nobody else really knows how it works. But it starts going from their inside into the outside world in terms of creating value in a unique way. And the uniqueness of their creativity comes from the uniqueness of who they are.
Shannon Waller: And the impact of that is so profound. So Julia Waller does this one-on-one with our 10x and Free Zone clients, and it's amazing. She just did one last week and the person's literally texting her and calling up, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh." The clarity that that gives, because you're right, it's undifferentiated. They are successful. They do have an experience of them with the world, nothing in between, and the results that they can produce, but they haven't really got it down to a formula, a set of best habits, clarity in terms of their strengths, CliftonStrengths, Kolbe profiles, incredibly useful, kolbe.com. Print is also a great profile. We have all these tools, and then this process, which if anyone's super curious, Unique Ability 2.0 Discovery is a great package you can get at strategiccoach.com, that just walks you through that process. Actually, the notebook is Julia writing it.
It's like sitting down with her. It's amazing. It's a six-step process. But it's so powerful, and we even got to hear that yesterday, Dan, in our team meeting. The longevity of our team is insane. So many people, 25 years, 20 years, 15, 10, five years. The average work employment these days is three to five years. The number of team members we have, and so many people talked about being validated in their Unique Ability. We help them discover it and put words to it and help expand it and give them opportunities for that. You and Babs are both brilliant at this. And it's such a different environment for people to be in that why would you leave? Because it's just too good. I mean, Unique Ability is the best attract and retain strategy ever from a team building standpoint. But it also means taking yourself seriously, which is a very consistent theme with you and in our books. But if you don't take yourself seriously, there's no way that you will attribute-
Dan Sullivan: Well, nobody else does.
Shannon Waller: Okay. If you don't take yourself seriously, nobody else does. That's a good one.
Dan Sullivan: I mean, the world takes their cues on how to interact with you on the basis of how you interact with you. I mean, this is ancient wisdom. I mean, this is not a recent discovery, but I think that the proliferation of highly visual technology, starting with movies, starting with television, that we're asked to be a spectator, admiring other people's capabilities that are way beyond ours, but it's fiction. It's fiction. It's not real. It's just fiction. So we're comparing our real self to other people's fictitious selves, and I think at a very young age, this is very confusing.
Shannon Waller: But where you're winning is where you're unique.
Dan Sullivan: Where you're unique is where you win.
Shannon Waller: Where you're unique is where you win. I cannot think of a better thing to end this conversation with, Dan. Thank you, as always, interesting, wide-ranging, great context about the origin of the word envy and the whole concept of fairness. And I think this is a really powerful path to get people focused on what is unique about them. Thank you.