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Leadership sets the example - or not

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Recently, there has been a discussion on Linkedin entitled “ is it okay for a leader to bend a rule or policy?” Although the answers have come back mixed, a number have been quite supportive of the idea that it is okay for leadership to disregard rules and policies to some extent.

On the plausible and positive side there are some reasons that can make sense. For example, to lean toward the accommodation of a customer even though policy may indicate a different path. And perhaps applying common sense in a poor-policy situation sounds like an acceptable variance. But these are traps, and there are better ways.

First, in arguments against deviation from policies by leadership, are legal issues; bending the rules is a legally dangerous choice. It opens the opportunity for successful lawsuits and grievances, as well as criticism and the loss of jobs – as in the recent Secret Service escapade.

Second, if leadership sets the example of disregard for policy, it opens the gate for everyone else in the organization. For the boss to proclaim or demonstrate that he or she can do whatever because he or she is the boss is not only poor leadership, it creates tremendous resentment within the group.

So, how does one get around policy.

First, policy that is inappropriate, outdated, unnecessary, or just plain stupid, should be dumped. If, on the other hand, it is one in which some discretion in favor of the customer, for example, really needs to be made, change the wording. Instead of an ironclad decree, try substituting the word “recommended.” “At the discretion of” can also be a way of accepting the intelligence of the individual involved while at the same time providing a checkpoint that must be considered.

A good test is to put yourself in the subordinates position: how do you like it when your superiors disregard rules and policy, but you get called on the carpet for little infractions? One of leadership’s goals ought to be to build a team. That doesn’t happen when one individual can do whatever while the rest have to follow the rules. In a way, to you, this boss person feels like a cheat.

The best leaders play the game fair. If it doesn’t work, fix it. Otherwise, observe it.

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