Leading with Principles
In life or at work, we need a set of guidelines to manage complexity. The more complex the environment, the bigger the need.
As companies grow bigger, the need to manipulate more information and coordinate with more people increases. So they implement rules in order to arrange the work and make sure to avoid mistakes (or abuses).
The problem is that any rule, while having some benefits, also has some costs, if just the cost of remembering, managing and observing those rules. More importantly, they often have second order effects that the company didn’t plan for, simply because, once again, we are terrible at managing complexity.
Rules often assume that something will happen in a certain way. But the reality is more subtle, and the rule never quite perfectly fits.
So instead of rules, organizations should favor having principles.
A rule says: you must come to the office at 9:00 in the morning.
A principle would rather say: Make sure to arrive at work so as to facilitate collaboration with the rest of your team (work with morning people? Then arrive early, but you don’t necessarily have to otherwise).
A rule says: you must get your manager approval for any expense.
A principle would rather say: Only spend wisely on things that have a direct contribution to our customers. Get approval for anything expensive. In doubt, just ask.
Rules are rigid. Principles leave room to adapt to most situations.
Rules make people comply. Principles empower people to be responsible.
Rules need to be updated often. Principles have a long life span.
Rules have negative side effects which are costly to the organization. With principles, any cost comes from people not fully following or understanding them, not from the principles themselves.
Rules multiply as you need more and more rules to overcome their shortcomings. But you only need a few limited guiding principles.
Leading with principles is a choice, and It starts with having trust in your people.