Why Double Standards Never Work at Work

Vocabulary.com defines a double standard as a code or policy that favors one group or person over another. Double standards are unfair. If a manager behaves arbitrarily and roughly toward a specific employee or group, it is guaranteed to be a problem.

Rob Peters
Jan 30, 2018 · 6 min read

For example, a manager I knew in a fortune 500 firm I worked for, dealt with a difficult worker in an erratic and volatile manager. This behavior as observed by the employees unhinged the organization and led to mistrust. Why? Employees may not be currently facing the wrath of this manager at the moment, but they know that this can be directed at them in the future. One of the most difficult challenges to effectively collaborating with a leader or manager is not knowing who is going to show up to the meeting today. The effect of this behavior is for employees to shut down their communications and withhold their trust until they assess the unpredictable behavior of the leader.

From Double Standards to a Standard of Trust

In leading and building a standard of trust business, your commitment to your character and self-restraint is constantly challenged. While there are many, many good people in the world with good intentions, there are also some bad people, with bad intentions. It can be hard to filter out the good from the bad. Get disappointed a few times, and it can be easy to convert to a low-trust mindset and try to guard yourself or your firm from all the bad. Nevertheless, in doing that, the likelihood is that you are missing out on a lot of good as well. And that good could be breakthrough innovation.

Conflict is one of the most difficult experiences for any leader, manager or entrepreneur to tackle. Avoiding tough conversations, commanding, or controlling someone is not handling conflict. Handling conflict means directly conveying the difference in belief or opinion. You and the other person have only two effective choices: accept the other person’s viewpoint or achieve a compromise. Mutual dismissal is not an effective choice. You must keep coping with the conflict until there is a mutually agreed to resolution: compromise or acceptance.

Many business leaders are convinced that to produce accountability with employees, those employees need to fear the consequence if they do not do what they are told. This may signify everything from being screamed at to getting dismissed for not attaining objectives.

However, does this kind of management actually work?

In the book, “Leading Without Fear,” by Laurie Cure, PhD asserts that an organizational culture of fear can be crippling to the employee, leader, and company.

Fear-based motivation can become very palpable in an organizational culture. People generally react to fear in one of two ways; the usual flight or fight response. For the business leader, the more indirect ramifications might be lower motivation, conformity or blind obedience, and/or a breakdown in communication.

The greater the level of fear or coercion embedded in an organizational culture the greater the negative outcomes to:

  • Financial targets
  • Customer satisfaction or quality metrics

Eventually in conditions of fear, employees are not capable of performing effectively. Leaders may be able to see low employee satisfaction scores and increased criticism to human resources or compliance functions.

An Example of Leading with Fear

Fear is principally about Threat. It is the combination of language and behavior utilized by the business leader on a frequent and consistent basis that results in fear. Usual ways that leaders cleverly instill fear is through:

  • Disparaging Comments
  • Ridicule
  • Threats of dismissal

They might believe that their quips are a way to motivate people, but it really produces the opposite effect. Another common behavior commonly observed is when they create a clique or in-group as well as an out-group. Important information is shared to the in-group employees and not others, or some get people are invited to a meeting and others are not.

The “fear-based environments” prevalent in today’s large organizations kill innovation; a lack of creative confidence stifles creativity. -Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

Standards of Organizational Culture Framework

There are principally three types of organizational cultures across the world that you can observe and assess.

Conformity Mindset — Up to this point, we have talked about fear-based leadership. There are a number of methods that leaders use to force action in others. First, they can coerce them, intimidate them, threaten them, or entice them to do something against their will.

Acquiescence Mindset — Second, they can induce them through promises of reward or fear and threats of consequence to freely decide that the desired action is in their best interest. This is the traditional carrot and stick motivations that many of us are familiar with in our careers.

Do-The-Right-Thing Mindset — Third, they can inspire them, relate with that individual in a way that the desired action becomes a common objective. This second standard of culture is largely the reason for individual and group behavior. Today, do-the-right-thing cultures are very exceptional. Only 3% of organizations have built this level of community.


As a leader, you may have the power to change your organization’s policies with the stroke of a pen. And you may have the ability to employ, fire, promote and demote people with little exertion. But changing a well-established culture may be the toughest project you will undertake. To do so, you must influence the hearts and minds of the people you work with, and that takes both commitment and persuasion.

This hyper-connected and transparent world is moving very fast. 21st-century management controls are no longer effective at getting the results you need to keep products and services from becoming commodities.

Standard of Trust Leadership is about putting your people in control and letting your shared purpose and values drive higher levels of performance that is underpinned by high relationship capital trust. Standard of Trust Leadership is about influencing and supporting a team of leaders and followers within your organization and across your entire ecosystem of customers, partners, and suppliers that will attract distinction, innovation, and financial performance.

To create and sustain your competitiveness in this world of accelerating change requires your team to see the opportunities as well as threats coming up them and proactively respond. Customers will not wait for you to develop the perfect business strategy, operating model, and/or launch the perfect technology platform when they want to make a decision. Your organizational culture must be smart, fast, and proactively act with good intent in the best interests of the customer/client, employees, and all your stakeholders. It all starts with building trust and ending the double standards.


Rob Peters

Written by

Relationship Capital | Gamification | Co-Creator of Peer SaaS Platform | HR Tech and Workplace Culture Strategist | CEO| Author of Standard of Trust Leadership

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