C-Suite Network™

Executive Leaders Should Put Down the Policy Handbook

So many business professionals and executive leaders think we need to have hard and fast rules applied across the board for every situation. Maybe it’s a backlash to the anti-discrimination laws, political correctness, or just fear of ticking someone off. What really slays me is when leaders, in their zeal to be consistent or “fair,” disregard the spirit of the rule or policy and completely forget the bigger picture. A truly effective leader is able to keep things in perspective.

As a “Recovering HR Director,” it always bothers me when leaders want to “legislate” their way out of having to make decisions. They want to create a rule for every occasion, every potential situation, and all circumstances. Each time there is an issue to be addressed, it’s simply stated and defined in the policy handbook and then filed away. The problem is, there are no identical situations. Just as there are no identical candidates for a job, there are no mirror image situations where a rule, policy, or procedure can absolutely be applied. Sure, there will be similar situations, where a guideline can easily be applied.

There will always be exceptions to every rule. And then, judgment, discretion, and yes, discrimination are required of the leader. If not, we wouldn’t need leaders. We could just create a system to apply and enforce rules, let the organization run on autopilot, and save money on those high-dollar salaries! By definition, executive leaders must be willing and able to make decisions. There will always be situations where discretion and judgment are necessary.

Rules alone will not suffice.

Make effective decisions using these tips:

1. Stop right there! Don’t react to a situation, but think about the big picture. Before reaching for the rubber stamp or just enforcing a policy, consider the spirit of the policy as well as the intent and context when the policy was created.

2. Take the time to research any similar situations and how they were handled. Compare those situations to this one, noting any unique conditions.

3. Analyze the situation from all angles and get input from appropriate individuals. Be prepared to take input into consideration, but make the final decision based on all factors.

4. Play the role of Joe Friday (of Dragnet fame), and get the facts. Ask open-ended questions to get the full picture. Open-ended questions typically require more than a one-word response, and therefore elicit more information. Find out what mitigating circumstances may be involved, if any.

5. Put on your “big boy drawers/big girl panties” and just do it! Make your decision and stand by it.

Share your thoughts on executive leadership decision-making and workplace policies. What tips would you add to this list?

What are some of the decision-making strategies that have worked for you?

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Jennifer Ledet, CSP, is a leadership consultant and professional speaker (with a hint of Cajun flavor) who equips leaders from the boardroom to the mailroom to improve employee engagement, teamwork, and communication.  In her customized programs, leadership retreats, keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, she cuts through the BS and talks through the tough stuff to solve your people problems.


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