Are your policies killing leadership?

You can tell a lot about an organizations’ leadership culture by looking at their internal corporate policies.

Such policies should exist to provide very broad guidelines on how the organization should operate and are necessary to ensure an organizational culture and brand can be established.

Yet many internal policy makers within organizations have drifted away from using policies as guidelines, and instead, use them to lay out strict rules and procedures for how the organization should be led. In doing so they’ve created organizations that are micro-managers. They’ve taken away the freedom that great leaders need to make great teams. They’ve taken away their freedom to lead.

I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be checks and balances, and my focus is not on program management, which often needs strict guidelines. My focus is on how leaders lead their teams in order to manage these programs.

So, if you have limiting policies on what a leader can do, then don’t be fooled into thinking you need great leaders. You don’t, because once in your organization they’ll not have the freedom to lead. Great leaders don’t follow the norm, they don’t lead how others lead, and they certainly don’t follow a strict A to Z route when building an engaged team. They create their own way and their own route. Great organizations hire leaders and give them people and programs to lead. Average organizations hire leaders and give them policies to manage. Which are you?

Yes, strict policies do succeed in minimizing the impact bad leaders or decisions can have on an organization. However, this risk should always be present and can be mitigated other ways such as hiring leaders with great character, not great technical competence. The bad leaders should then be dealt  with individually and separately, not as a blanket punishment to every other leader.

The risk that should never be accepted is the risk of limiting the freedom and impact great leaders can have on the organization. It’s like buying a top of the line sports car, restricting its high-end and low-end speeds, and entering in a race hoping that it will do well. It might not lose, but it definitely won’t win.

So look at the policies within your organization. Are they broad guidelines, or are they strict rules. Do they lay out the spirit of the policy and offer some guidelines and tools, allowing the rest to the judgment of the leader, or do they lay out strict rules that must be followed with very little thought or initiative, just frustration and obedience?

So let’s not be fooled: being micro-managed doesn’t always mean being micro-managed by a boss, but sometimes by the system that has way more power than any boss has.

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