Leaders Know that Rules Aren’t Values and Values Aren’t Rules

Kathryn Scanland Leadership

Thinking in the language of can versus can’t predisposes you to perceive challenges in a certain way and respond within narrow avenues.  Thinking in and speaking the language of values—the language of  should  and  shouldn’t instead of the language of can and can’t—opens up a wide spectrum of possible thought, a spectrum that encompasses the full colors of human behavior as opposed to the black-and-white response of rules.  ~Dov Seidman

Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

Dov Seidman hits the nail on the head once again. The organizations of the industrial-age with their vertical hierarchies drove their rules and policies through the organization. But now, in the information-age and an economy built on knowledge with flat organizational structures, it is shared values permeating throughout organizations that enable them to thrive.
I can’t say it better than Dov, so I’ll let him explain:

Rules achieve good floors, minimum standards of behavior, and they prevent bad things from happening—if people follow them. Values are not black-and-white or quantitative. Values are like trust; they empower others to honor or betray you. They open up avenues of possibility and leave room for interpretation.

Harry C. Stonecipher, the president and CEO of Boeing, was asked by Boeing’s board to resign after having an extramarital affair with another employee, for example, the company could have responded by amending its code of conduct to prohibit or restrict certain kinds of relationships between employees. Instead, Boeing did something far more interesting: It enshrined and enforced a value. Lead director and former non-executive chairman of Boeing, Lewis Platt, said, “The board concluded that the facts reflect poorly on Harry’s judgment and would impair his ability to lead the company…” the CEO must set the standard for unimpeachable professional and personal behavior, and the board determined that this was the right and necessary decision under the circumstances.  Boeing sent the message that employee behavior does not answer to a set of rules, but to a much more powerful standard: repute. In a stroke, Boeing employees understood that part of their job involved bringing the company positive repute; and that integrity was so central to what Boeing is that it could cost even the highest executives their jobs. By celebrating a value rather than instituting a rule, Boeing gains much tighter alignment with its workforce. Every employee must internalize this value, wrestle with it on an ongoing and individual basis and thereby develop a much more active relationship to the company’s desires and a tighter alignment with its goals. The value, while seemingly less direct than a rule, achieves a greater result.

What this reinforces for me is not just the identification of values, but the personification of values. If the personification of values is vibrant and alive, then are rules or policies really necessary? As Dov suggested, rules set a minimum standard while values lay a foundation for possibility. For several months now, I’ve been trying to identify organizations’ values based upon my interactions, whether I’m a consumer, consultant or coach. If I can’t identify at least some of their values, without actually asking, then I doubt if their values are vibrant enough to really achieve the results they are likely aiming for.
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