My brother stopped by while we were playing with our then four-month-old Alaskan Malamute puppy Clara. After he heard me tell her “Stop biting”, “quit jumping”, “don’t pull so hard”, etc., his response was “Too many rules!” I hadn’t thought about it before he said that, but when you are raising a puppy, there has to be a lot of rules, especially when they are between eight and sixteen weeks old, when they are very impressionable. For example, they need to have rules about where they are to go to the bathroom (and where they aren’t), what rooms of the house they can go into, etc.
But at work when you are leading your team, after you communicate your expectations, you don’t need many rules.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some state governors, including mine, implemented many rules (no indoor dining, no large gatherings, wear a mask when you are indoors, etc.), with the goal of easing the burden on hospitals and “stopping the spread” of the coronavirus. Although the rules may have been well intentioned, many believe that the governors at times overstepped their authority in implementing some of the lockdown rules.
As a leader I tried not to have too many rules for my teams. Team members naturally wanted to know what my basic expectations were, as they differ from leader to leader, so I eventually created an “Expectations/Philosophies” document that I would share with them at the beginning of our relationship. I always found that by giving team members my expectations, along with what they could expect of me, in writing, it would help us get off to a good start in our working relationship. If there were additional questions not covered on the document, they could ask questions. If I noticed questions asked repeatedly, I would incorporate the information into the document. But overall, I tried not to have too many rules. My team members were professionals, and deserved to be treated as such.
On specific work assignments, I would lay out what my expectations were at the beginning of the assignment. Once it was clear that the expectations were clearly understood, I let them know that I was always available for any questions that they might have. I would occasionally check in to see how things were going so they knew I hadn’t forgotten about their assignment, but I always tried not to micro-manage. I didn’t like that from my leaders, and I tried to lead as I wanted to be led. As a leader, I would then hold them accountable for the results they either achieved or didn’t achieve.
Yes, there are a lot of rules and expectations when a dog is a puppy (“stop digging!”), but then you have a well-behaved adult dog that is quickly obedient when they’re fully grown.
But my recommendation for servant leaders would be to clearly communicate your expectations, and after that, have only a minimal number of rules. You can trust your team that they were chosen as professionals that can do a good job.
What has been your experience with leaders and rules?