From Management to Principle Centered Leadership

Shifting from a restrictive style of management to principle centered leadership is not for the faint-hearted. It will possibly be the personal growth journey of your life!

  • Is your organization over-burdened with rigid policies, rules and procedures that stop team members from meeting customer needs?
  • Rules that don't make sense and distract people from achieving the mission of any organization - to serve its customers?
  • Policies that are costly both in terms of employee morale and dissatisfied customers?

If you were nodding yes to these questions, I can almost guarantee that your business is not performing at the level that you want! Read on for how you can influence this immediately!

What does it mean to be a rule-based workplace?

A rule-based workplace makes decisions based on past history and precedent, following written down procedures/policies.

A rule-based workplace makes it easy for a manager to manage. S/he can make decisions, without having to think about it. The down-side is that rules can be used as a cop out for a weaker manager who reverts to statements like "Look, if it was left up to me I'd do it differently, but I have to follow the rules!"

Interestingly, not only do weak leaders like rule based workplaces, so too do under-performing team members. They too can hide behind rules by saying this like, "I'm simply following policy."

The advantage of a rule-based workplace is that it does ensure that decisions are consistent. The disadvantage is that it may not always be the best decision in the given circumstance.

Shifting To Principle Centered Leadership Encourages Flexibility

The problem with rules is they don't allow for flexibility and reasonableness in a given situation.

So what to do? Do we get rid of all the rules and have it as a free-for-all?

No, not at all. This is not an advocacy to get rid of all rules, policies and procedures.

There's a requirement for some rules, policies and procedures in all organizations - e.g. no drinking on the job, no fighting.

But the fewer you have, the better off you'll be.

By their very nature rules hamper people from being as efficient and as effective as they might.

A few years back, I was working in an organization which had a rule that purchase orders over $50 had to be authorized by team leaders. This rule was costing us lost productivity, of about two hours each day, as people chased around looking for team leaders to sign the paperwork. Rather than employ more leaders, we needed to empower and trust our team members.

A rule about rules - Don't make one unless:

  • You have considered all its consequences,
  • Will apply it to everyone, and
  • You are prepared to stand by it, even when it hurts.

Your challenge is to find the rules that are senseless, that don't fit in with today's fast moving pace and then get rid of them. For example, rules like:

  • A reserved car-space for the General Manager,
  • Managers wear corporate clothes and front-line workers wear uniforms,
  • Only people above supervisor level are allowed to sign purchase orders etc.

Unwritten Rules

The Difference Between Command and Control Management And Principle Centered Leadership

Simply put, command and control (in other words rules, polices and procedures) tell people what to do. Principle centered leadership provides guidelines that empower people to make good decisions.

Policies or Procedures define specifically what and how to do something - they define specific actions or behaviors. For example:

Team Members who attend late, on more than three occasions, will receive a formal warning.

Here the responsibility rests with the Management Team to ensure they have a tracking system which will 'catch' people who have been absent more than three times and then hand out the appropriate punishment.

A Principle is a fundamental or general truth, that helps people determine the appropriate decision, given the circumstance at hand. They are guidelines that provide an indication of what to do, but not how to do it. For example:

Team members ensure they are in attendance when they feel responsibility for the success of the team

Here, the focus is on the leadership team ensuring they help the team member understand his or her importance in the achievement of the team's goals. By so doing, the team member feels committed to. and responsible for. making sure he or she is at work.

As you can see from the two examples above, the primary difference between policies and principles is that Principles are more empowering to Team Members.

Take this simple quiz to see if you can discern the difference between a principle and a policy. Being skilled at this will help you shift from management to principle centered leadership.

Why It Is Good To Shift To Principle Centered Leadership

  • Principles make it possible for the people within an organization to be flexible and creative in how they resolve problems
  • Principles enable front-line team members and leaders to be responsive to the changing needs of the market place
  • Rather than sticking to the way it's always been done, principles make it possible for people to make good decisions that suit the circumstance at hand, and the objectives they are trying to achieve
  • Principles enable leaders to re-design their organization and work processes to meet the needs of the marketplace
  • Principles can inspire people to be a part of the vision they share rather than focus on the constraints they must be on guard against
  • People are responsible for the decisions they make (in other words no more hiding behind the rule book)

Four Steps To Take When Shifting To Principle Centered Leadership

  1. Identify the values that will drive the achievement of business outcomes
  2. Identify all policies and procedures that are irrational and inconsistent with your organizational vision
  3. Develop the principles that will empower people to achieve the organizational vision
  4. Apply the principles

Click here for more details on these four steps to creating principles.

Shifting from Management to principle based leadership is not for the faint-hearted. It means that you must make decisions based upon YOUR judgment. When you first start out with this style of leadership, you will have people reporting to you who will call you unfair, because you made a decision this way today and a slightly different way tomorrow.

Being a principle centered leader does not mean you allow a free-for-all. You must stick to your standards. Principles simply enable you to have the flexibility to choose an effective approach for each situation. Certainly at times you and your team members will make incorrect decisions ... simply learn from those mistakes. Don't put a rule in place because of the mistake.

If it is possible to have people manage themselves based on principles rather than on a whole bunch of rules, you save your company an enormous amount of money ... you are dollars ahead and you've created a great place to work.

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