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

June 12, 2017
Paul LaRue

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

Much management thinking over the generations has gravitated toward one end of the spectrum or another. There have been those in the heavy system and rules camp, managers who pride themselves on the results-only method and an “I’m not here to make friends” mindset. Then there are those 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 channeling 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 too heavily on the side of relationship can breed resentment, when a leader is fearful of enforcing rules in order to be perceived as 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 in both the rules-without-relationship camp and the relationship-over-rules camp is that neither one garners the ultimate goal of RESPECT. That is what both sides of this leadership coin strive to do but 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 compulsion, but will disengage eventually in the “my way or the highway” platform.

Respect garnered through a relationship-only foundation may quite often miss the mark as well. When leaders choose to avoid hurting people’s feelings, or having their own feelings hurt, by not addressing certain performance or policy standards, it breeds discontentment 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 is lost when there is no confidence that the leader is leading toward 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 developing in 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 are treated fairly when rules are enforced and when a human approach to a situation is provided. 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.

More From Paul LaRue

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5 Ways to be a Buffer in a Negative Culture

Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.

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