May 1, 2019
Rules are put in place to have a very specific guideline to refer to when needed. They allow us to maintain order in our household, our companies, our state, and our country. Rules are usually made with the best of intentions, either to protect people from each other or themselves. It also acts as a barrier so people can’t do whatever they want and not face consequences. But what about when an employee breaks a rule but had a legitimate reason to? Do you punish them for something they might not have had control over? Or do you let it slide knowing that it might happen again? Being in a management position means that you will have to deal with people breaking the rules, but how you choose to handle it can make the difference between a boss and a leader.
Principles Vs. Rules
If you understand when to enforce rules and when to enforce principles, then you are already on your way to creating a better work environment. Focusing on principles on more than rules will allow your employees to feel less stifled and more creative. Most companies have a policy that you have to show up at a specific time for your shift and if you are late then you get a tardy. After a certain number of tardies, you may face disciplinary action or may even be fired. But what about when someone was stuck in traffic because there was an unexpected traffic accident? Or they had a flat tire on their way to work? Do you really feel justified in giving them a tardy even if in that same situation you would have been late as well?
The best course of action is instead of creating rules that can never be broken, is to emphasize the principle behind the policy. With a policy like time management, it shows respect for their coworkers and allows the business to be run more efficiently. When you start using principles to guide your decision making, your employees will notice and respect your leadership because they will not feel micromanaged. It may surprise you how well your employees respond to management that is flexible and situation based. But if you treat people like a problem, they won’t want to become your solution.
Why It Matters
Companies that constantly enforce zero tolerance policies or punish the entire group for one person’s mistake, it will create tension between upper and lower management. Even simple things, like putting up in a sign in the bathroom reminding people to wash their hands implies that employees can’t handle simple tasks by themselves. The consequences of these iron policies will be detrimental to the talent at your work as well. People who feel burdened by management will disengage, or worse, walk away completely. The more you try and force behavior, the more people will want to rebel against it.
The biggest exception is if someone’s actions are negatively impacting a coworker or the entire team. Someone who is rude, hinders the companies performance, doesn’t respect management or their peers will need to be evaluated right away, and sometimes there is little else you can do besides bring the hammer down on them.
Finding a balance between power-hungry monarch and lackadaisical leader is harder than people think. A leadership position comes with many challenges, the most difficult being decision making. Sometimes you may seem too harsh to one employee while to another you don’t enforce rules enough. There is no way you can avoid ruffling people’s feathers, but with introspection, growth, and knowledge, it will make you a great leader and an even better person.