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Leading with principles, (rather than managing by policy), is a fundamental competency and mindset for any high-performance leader. Therefore shifting from being a rule-based/policy driven leader to a principle-centered leader is crucial to your own and your team's performance.
Here's what we are going to cover:
- 1Why rule-based organizations are so prevalent
- 2The difference between policy driven management and principle-centered leadership
- 3Why it's advantageous to shift to principle-centered leadership
- 4Don't go reaching for your policy-writing pen when someone makes a mistake
- 5The rules about rules
- 6Four steps to creating principles
Why Rule-Based Workplaces are so Prevalent
A rule-based workplace makes it easy for a manager to manage. S/he can make decisions, without having to think too deeply about it. It is much easier to grab the book of rules and tell someone what to do, than to stop and think through the impact of the decision you are about to make - especially for the long-term.
The down-side is that rules are often used as a cop-out for a weaker manager who reverts to statements like "Look, if it were 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 also can hide behind rules by saying things 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. And often stops the organization from being as agile as it needs.
Weak managers and under-performing employees both like rules ... because they can 'hide' behind them!
Being rule-based comes at a cost. If you nod yes to these questions, I guarantee your business is not performing at the level that you want!
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 better decisions.
Policies or Procedures
define specifically what and how to do something. They define specific actions or behaviors.
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 'catches' people who have been absent more than three times and then hand out the appropriate punishment.
is a fundamental or general truth, that helps people determine the appropriate actions for themselves in given situations. They are guidelines that indicate what to do, but not how to do it.
Team members ensure they are in attendance
when they feel responsible for the success of the team
The principle guides the team leader to inspire team members to want to be at work because they believe that what they do matters. The principle assists the leader to think about what he or she needs to do and say to help team members want to be at work, rather than punitively punishing them for not showing up.
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.
Principles are directional, whereas rules are directive
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 need for some rules, policies, and procedures in all organizations.
For example, no drinking on the job, no fighting.
the fewer rules you have, the more agile your organization will be
Why it is Advantageous to Shift to Principle-Centered Leadership
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.
Here are a few reasons why principle-centered leadership is advantageous:
Stop Putting in a Policy or Rule When Someone Makes a Mistake
In command and control organizations whenever someone makes a mistake, a policy or rule is put in place to stop it from happening again. That's a huge mistake.
What is a far more powerful thing to do, is to start to ask questions like: "How have we not set the right context around this for our team members."
I was recently working with a client who had team members submit some outrageous items in their annual budgeting process. To the extent that some of the requests being made, were pushing some of the line-items in the budget close to 60% more than the previous year.
Now if they'd been rule-based, they would have put in a policy that would have stopped people from asking for these types of items in the future.
Instead, these very wise leaders asked a more principle-based question: "What is causing our team members to not understand our business model, our priorities and our budgeting process?"
By asking that question, instead of putting in policy, they went down the education path. This meant the team members were able to make better choices in the future AND in the process identified hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings in other areas. Because instead of blindly following policy, they were now acting like business partners and making informed decisions.
A rule about rules - Don't make one unless:
Your challenge is to find the senseless rules, that don't fit in with today's fast-moving pace and get rid of them. For example, rules like:
Four Steps to Take When Shifting to Principle-Centered Leadership
- 1Identify the values that will drive the achievement of business outcomes
- 2Identify all policies and procedures that are irrational and inconsistent with your organizational vision
- 3Develop the principles that will empower people to achieve the organizational vision
- 4Apply the 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 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.
Because being a principle-centered leader means that you take in the entire context of a situation. Then you work with your team members to make the appropriate decisions for that circumstance.
Being a principle-centered leader does not mean you allow a free-for-all. You must stick to your standards.
However, principles enable you the flexibility to choose a sound 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.
When 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 create a great place to work.
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