Rules, Relationship, and Respect – Balance The 3 R’s of Leadership


Which would an organization rather have – a leader who enforces rules or one who builds relationships?

Much management thinking over the generations has gravitated towards one end of the spectrum or another. There have been the heavy system and rules camp, managers who pride themselves on the results-only method and that “I’m not here to make friends” mindset. Then there are others who hold to the other side of the coin, the people/relationship side. These leaders favor their people and have a general tendency to be soft on standards and build the trust and respect of their people. “Business is about relationships,” they say, and cling to treating their people like family.

As with anything, whether in exercise and diet or in leadership, moderation and balance is always the key to success. Too heavy of a drift into one direction or another can breed some significant consequences.

Take for instance the rules-heavy camp. Leaders who emphasize rules over all else fail to attach a value to their people. Many times they do not acknowledge earnest effort, but focus on any performance below a certain metric as intolerable. When it comes to behavior or HR-related issues, rules-heavy leaders force every instance into a black-and-white box, sometimes erroneously channelling people towards one side of the fence or another, thus alienating those individuals by not “seeking first to understand” the entire situation.

Don’t get me wrong – rules and standards are necessary (by nature that is the side I gravitate towards). Standards generate consistency, goals and metrics to work towards, and a means to differentiate your organization from the competition in your execution of your brand. But being too heavy-handed on rules results in this proverbial parenting saying:

“Rules without a Relationship equals Rebellion”

It can even be said further that weighing to heavily on the side of relationship can breed resentment, when a leader is fearful of enforcing rules in order to be the kinder, gentler manager. When  the pendulum swings to the other side and enforcement of basic standards and conduct gives way, the leader loses much in the way of credibility

The fallacy is both the rules-without-relationship camp and the relationship-over-rules is that neither one garners the ultimate goal of RESPECT. That is what both sides of this leadership coin strive to do, and fall short of when they focus on the one-OR-the-other approach.

Rules-only tries to build respect from a top-down, authoritative position. These leaders feel that people should respect them due to such factors as position, title, directives, or their boisterous, driven personality. Employees tend to comply for a short period of time out of fear or being compelled, but will disengage eventually in the “my way or the highway” platform.

Respect garnered through a relationship-only foundation may find gaining respect quite often can miss this mark as well. When leaders choose not hurting people’s feelings, or having their own feelings hurt, by not addressing certain performance or policy standards, there breeds a discontent among the other staff members. When people see that a leader does not hold up standards, or lets policy violations get brushed aside so that the leader can be seen more as a friend than an enemy, it creates lost credibility in the eyes of the staff. Regardless of type of structure, employees look for stability within that framework; this is easily undone when the “feel good” leadership style overrides sound principles of people management. Like the rules-heavy camp, respect gained early on get’s lost when there is no confidence in the leader actually being a leader towards better performance and higher standards.

Effective leaders find a way to balance rules and standards with relationships and connections in order to achieve respect. And not merely respect for their leadership, but respect for the vision, work, and culture that the leader is spurring the team. By having a balanced approach to protocol and connection, the leader can also deepen mutual respect throughout the organization in their handling of personnel and challenging moments.People will feel that they area treated fairly when rules are enforces and when a human approach to a situation is given. The resulting connection will enable the company to achieve greater success as a result.

Balance the 3 R’s of Rules, Relationships, and Respect. Find the mix that works for your team and build a winning culture.

(image: lawdegrees)




About Paul LaRue

My goal - To encourage you to lead & influence others with positive impact.

Posted on September.20.2016, in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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