The Leader’s Role: Someone Has to Enforce the Rules


In my blog on the Rs: Rules, Respect, and Repercussions, I explored KIDmandment 7 and how it comes into play when raising children. Clarity of expectations is vital at home and at work as well. Despite their importance, nobody really relishes being the enforcer of the rules. Parents want to love and nurture their children, not discipline them. But understanding the repercussions of our actions is an important lesson that can't be skipped over.

The same is true at work. Very few people come in to work in the morning hoping that they get the chance to enforce the rules that day. Ideally, the rules exist as guidelines for performance and behavior, and never need to be addressed in a disciplinary context. It's inevitable that issues arise. When they do, it's the leader's role to enforce the rules, whether that means a disciplinary hearing or a termination of employment. Good leaders don't love these responsibilities, but understand that they're part of the job description.

Rules, Rules, Rules

Both the home and the workplace are very complex places. Many different types of people fulfill a variety of functions to keep everything running smoothly and deliver value to others. To maintain orderly conduct and ensure that goals are met, it's necessary to implement rules and regulations. These can include rules about how and when work is done and how others are expected to behave while representing the family/company, while establishing a chain of command to enforce those rules.

Just as rules at home create a positive atmosphere in which roles are well-defined and expectations are clear, workplace rules create a framework within which everyone can succeed. In order for the rules to be effective, they must be clear, reasonable, and have the support of those who are subject to them. As Mike A. Cuma writes in a blog post for LegacyBowesGroup

When establishing and implementing workplace rules, some very important factors must be considered… the following are some well established principles employers should keep in mind:

•    Rules must be clear and unequivocal
•    Rules must be reasonable
•    Rules must be consistently enforced

In order to meet these criteria, it's important that employees be involved in the rule-making process. As I wrote in last week's blog, when people understand why a rule is in place, they are much more likely to follow it. Knowing the philosophy behind a rule or regulation as well as its practical application enhances clarity of expectations and encourages people to “buy in” to the rules.

So ask yourself, are your rules at home reasonable, clear, and consistently enforced, or do you make them up as you go along? My guess is they are reasonable, but are they consistently enforced or does one child or employee get treated differently than the other? Chances are the rules at home are nowhere near as clear as they are at work, unless of course you have a written job description and handbook. Not that I am recommending going to that extreme, but I do recommend writing down the rules that seem to cause the most frustration.

At home, we use Evernote, which allows our kids to refer to the documented rules… not that they ever do, but guess who does? That’s right, dear ‘ol dad! If in doubt, we go to Evernote and see what we agreed to last time something like this happened. We even have a punishment form so we can unemotionally spell out the issue, dispense the consequences, and move on. We don't always use it, but if the alternative is yelling at the kids every time they do something wrong, I’d prefer to discuss it like they are mature enough to have a conversation that strengthens our relationship rather than hurts it. 

Company Values 

When formulating workplace rules, the company values are a great place to start. Our “Family Values Statement” guides the rules that my family all agrees are important, and thus, they are easy to uphold. When problems arise, my wife and I are able to point back to those values and analyze the behavior in question. We ask ourselves — how does the behavior contribute to or take away from the values we are striving to demonstrate? When you can pinpoint a particular value and show how a certain behavior falls short of that value, it is much easier to articulate both the shortcoming and the solution.

On the MindTools blog, an in-depth exploration of company values reveals this wisdom,

Your organization's workplace values set the tone for your company's culture, and they identify what your organization, as a whole, cares about. It's important that your people's values align with these.

Our position is that documented values set the tone for the company's culture, and I believe it should be the same at home! The key word is documented — your values must be in writing. When this happens, everyone in the family understands what we have committed to each other, why we are doing what we do, and this common purpose and understanding helps enhance the relationships between siblings AND between parents and kids.

Enforcing the Rules

When an issue does arise with one of our daughters and my wife and I are called on to lay down the law, we find that it's important to approach the situation with firm conviction. We do our best to be thoughtful about our words and actions so that the discussion is productive. This means staying calm even when we're upset, so that we don't introduce personal emotions into the equation.

I think one of the best things parents can do is not embellish the situation. Tell your child what they did wrong and be specific. Let them know that when they do “that”, the impact to others is “this”. Talk about people's feelings and the consequences of their actions, but don’t go on and on and on. There is enough drama in the world, the last thing we need is for parents to be inflicting our children with more. We all make mistakes. Tell them what the mistake was, tell them what the punishment is, and let's move on. 

Finally, the most important thing to remember as leaders is that we have to “walk the walk” ourselves. Setting a good example by holding ourselves accountable to the same standards as our employees and/or our children is absolutely vital. After all, we lose our authority to enforce the rules if our example proves that we hold ourselves above them. As leaders, we must embody the company values as fully as possible and inspire others by our example. When we do this successfully, we are much less likely to find ourselves having those uncomfortable conversations that we dread.

What are the values that are important to your business, and how do you address it when they are not upheld? Join the conversation by tweeting @JeffOddo!