These are words that some people like to use interchangeably in the management and leadership realms. Yet, I don’t think they mean the same thing.
Fairness is equal opportunity. Consistency is equal approach. Appropriateness is suitable to the circumstances.
Let’s use the example of professional sports try-outs.
Fairness is about giving each athlete an equal chance to participate and compete for a professional contract. Consistency refers to having the same set of standards in evaluation for each athlete in the competition. Appropriateness comes into play at the time the team is trying to decide which of the top scorers gets the contract based on their skill set and the team’s needs.
If the team needs a quarterback, why would they hire a wide receiver? Or why would they make the wide receiver play quarterback?
Let’s take it to the business world.
Fairness with consistency is what managers do. Managers want everything to be handled the same way and everyone to learn the same things with the same tools. That’s how maximum efficiency is reached.
Appropriateness with consistency is what leaders do. Leaders are always being strategic, finding the best personnel fit to every task, and developing people according to their profile. That’s how maximum effectiveness is reached.
Every individual is different is learning patterns, aptitude, ability, and areas of strengths. If everyone is different, fairness is not the name of the game; appropriateness is.
Some people refer to this approach as individualization, others, just call it strategic thinking. Whichever name we choose, this is the practice we must master if we want to become great leaders.
Leaders find a way to give everyone a chance to perform at their best. This can only be done when each team member is doing what they do best.