STRICT BUT FAIR. You May Save A Life.

  • A “Strict but Fair” approach can be effectively applied in many situations.

  • There are 5 steps that can be applied to this approach.

  • This approach must clearly be for the benefit of the group members, not the group leader. 


There is a motto, “Strict but Fair” that I have occasionally come across that can be effectively applied to many situations.

It can be applied when working with a group of children and also when working with a group of adults often at work or elsewhere in some challenging situations.

The two experiences that I can share with you are about my high school mathematics teacher, and when I was managing a work force in a gold mine.


I attended a high school in Vancouver many decades ago. We had a math teacher, Miss Adams. To us teenagers she was of course relatively old, maybe in her late thirties or even early forties. She was much shorter in stature than many of the tall lanky students who attended her classes.

However, she definitely practiced a strict but fair policy. It was her habit at the beginning of each class to have the students display their completed homework on their desks. She would walk around the classroom quickly checking that the work had been completed. If she found a student whose work had not been completed she would ask them to stand up and then inform them of how and why they were letting the whole class down. This student was slowing down the progress of the class. They would not be able to progress as they should through the curriculum. Due to lack of completing their work, it has resulted in their ability to understand the concepts being taught.

Please note that Miss Adams did not shout but quietly explained why it was important that the work was done. This simple act definitely made everyone ensure that when they entered the classroom their homework was completed.

Was this fair? Was Miss Adams being unnecessarily strict? I think the answer to that was illustrated very clearly. Miss Adams left the school as I suspect she relocated when she got married. The year after she left, we had a student assembly. This high school had over 1300 students who were present during this assembly and the principal announced that we had a special guest. He announced that Mrs. Xxxxxxxx was present, who was known to us as Miss Adams. Once this was announced, there was a thunderous reaction as 1300 students rose to their feet, applauded, whistled and cheered. A welcome unlike I had ever experienced before or since. Miss Adams had gained the utmost respect of all the students she had taught over the years. This is one example of how a strict but fair policy can be successfully applied.


I never forgot the example of Miss Adams. When I was an underground manager of a gold mine in South Africa in the 1970’s, ultimately the strict but fair approach was something I practiced. Mining can be a very dangerous occupation.

There are many hazards such as dangerous gases in the air (explosive methane, poisonous hydrogen sulphide, nitrous fumes from blasting), to falling rock and the mishandling of explosives. Ultimately, people ignore some of the many dangers and become complacent. This can lead to dangerous and life threatening incidents. By employing similar tactics to Miss Adams, and checking if the many safety practices were being followed, it resulted in people complying with the safety practices which would prevent accidents and loss of lives.

Did this checking on the compliance to safety standards work? It is difficult to know how many accidents were prevented, but I do know that I did gain respect. Like Miss Adams I left the mines, moving into the computer industry. A year or so later some of my computer workmates wanted to visit a mine. So I contacted my old mining buddies and arranged an underground visit. During that visit, I was surprised as some of the miners informed me about how they were complying with the regulations. I had to remind them that I no longer worked there, but that was a show of respect which made me realize that the strict but fair approach can have a positive effect.


Should you have an occasion where being strict but fair applies, here are 5 steps to use:

  1. Set an expectation – You must set the expectation up front. The recipient must understand what is required. You cannot be strict after the fact.

  2. Correct as you go – If you see that they are not adhering to the requirements, inform them immediately. Don’t wait.

  3. LISTEN – Ask why they are not meeting the expectation? Perhaps there is a valid reason.

  4. Adjust – The person must adjust their performance, or you must adjust the expectation.

  5. Reward success. Discipline failure.

The KEY ELEMENT that differentiates being tough and fair from being tough and unreasonable is number 3 to LISTEN. If you do not listen you will be known as unreasonable and will not achieve the results you are seeking.

In all cases, I believe the strict but fair approach when used in reasonable circumstances and in a respectful manner can assist old and young alike to reach common goals.


Thus there will be times when you might want to try this approach. In my opinion it is very important that the results you wish to achieve are not for your benefit, but for the benefit of the group or team. They will realize that this is being done for their benefit and not your benefit and they will appreciate your approach and you will gain their respect.

What are your thoughts about strict but fair? When might it be appropriate to use? Please post your thoughts or experiences.

Wishing you lots of love and laughter, as always.

Fred Jones

Fred Jones

Fred Jones

Posted in Blog, Coaching, Program Activities, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .


  1. Yes very wise words. I finally got around to reading this and because I know you well, I think you set the best example of this. I really loved this story.

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