When Rules Go Bad

When do rules go from being a help to a hindrance? From useful to the absurd?

Last week, my taxi driver was lamenting a new rule at the airport he picks me up from. It stated he had to pick me up at a certain location, as opposed to our usual meeting place.

To him (the supplier) and to me (the customer), the airport’s rule seemed to make no sense whatsoever. From our perspective, it only caused us hassle and strife.

Rules are necessary, but so often in organisations they become the master. The tail wagging the dog. The antithesis of common sense.

How often have you followed a rule which:-

Made no sense?
Caused slow downs?
Led to roadblocks?
Interfered with flow?
Stunted creativity?
Abdicated personal responsibility?

I’m not advocating throwing out rules altogether. Especially when it comes to matters such as health and safety, accountancy, and legal matters. Rules undoubtedly have their place.

What I’m talking about is when they take over and are used in place of a much more powerful tool – a potent and positive organisational culture.

Rules say…

I don’t trust you
So you must
Be quiet and
Get on with it and
Do as you’re told and
Perform and
Deliver and
Obey or
Suffer the consequences.

A powerful culture says…

I trust you
I believe in you
You are valued
And you’re free to
Create and
Contribute and
Speak up and
Help us to help you to be better.

So the next time you find yourself asking,”how freakin’ stupid is this process?”

Or, when you catch yourself saying, “I know this procedure is established to accomplish…but if we just did this instead, we could achieve….”

This is your clue to sit up, take notice and look further. Don’t just accept it. Question. Take a closer look.  Be brave and see if you can come up with a better solution.  Turn to pragmatism.

Turn to culture.

 Tweet: When Rules Go Bad @suzimcalpine #leadership http://ctt.ec/08Jxc+


  1. thebusinessdude on May 6, 2014 at 2:27 am

    People want the why of what – the why is important to get buyin for the what. We see the absurd – because we are not always privy to the bigger picture. Yet, the bigger picture can be hindered without the little people who cannot see. Good article.

    • The Leader's Digest on May 6, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      I absolutely agree – the ‘why’ is so often the key ingredient. Thanks for your feedback. Cheers, Suzi.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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