Berger Leadership Blog

Principles over rules

B. Dan BergerWe're taught early in our lives to follow the rules. Rules are put in place to tell us how we should behave and what expectations to have in certain situations. They put us in a mindset of right and wrong.

Each organization likely has an employee handbook that outlines office rules. These are helpful in ensuring employees understand the way the company works, but they can also be inflexible and stifle employees' autonomy.

This is where the adage "rules are meant to be broken" has some truth. Along this line, leadership expert Rajshree Agarwal suggests that leaders should stress principles for office culture rather than rules: "Rules coerce behavior. Principles inspire behavior," she writes. Here are three ways principles can drive positive results in your organization:

  1. Stay optimistic: Rules are often phrased in pessimistic ways that make it seem like employees don't know how to behave professionally or as adults. Promoting principles in your office will motivate your team to work at their highest ability because they feel like you trust them and they have space to grow and learn.
  2. Stay flexible: Always enforcing rules, without any compassion or understanding, can give off the vibe that your employees well-being is the least of your concern. As we preach from a regulatory standpoint, one size does not fit all. It's ok to offer an accommodation in certain circumstances, and you don't have to feel guilty about not giving it to everyone on your team.
  3. Stay grounded: Office culture is a tremendous influence on employees' fulfillment. Having managers that respect their employees – and don't let power go to their head – is critical to retaining good talent. And creating an environment where good talent feels autonomous will keep your organization on the road to success.

Here at NAFCU, we do have an employee handbook but we also work to strengthen the relationships between managers and direct reports. We encourage managers to act as they see fit to find reasonable solutions with their employees when things come up, because that's what happens in life.

Promoting principles over rules fits well within the practice of servant leadership – it will increase trust, loyalty and engagement among your employees.

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About the Author

B. Dan Berger, President and CEO, NAFCU

Dan BergerB. Dan Berger first joined NAFCU in 2006 and has helped expand the association’s reputation into becoming a premier advocate for the credit union industry.

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