leadership lane-assist

Here’s another thing about policies.

Oh, if you’re just tuning in, I’m in the middle of a series of posts I’m calling My Leadership Lane-Assist. I’ve been asserting that those of us who have been leading for a long time develop truisms, axioms, principles that we rely on to keep us and our team members on course — or warn us when we might tend unconsciously to veer off course. I have accumulated my own set of principles that serve as a kind of Leadership Lane-Assist for me.

Policies and Procedure manuals imageIn the two previous posts, I have offered the following admonitions about policies:

Rules are last and least for leadership success.

Resist the tendency to allow policies to become
a substitute for judgment.


Now, here’s one more:

The sabbath was made for man … and so are policies.


You are familiar with the biblical allusion here, right? Mark’s Gospel (Mk. 2:23ff) tells us that Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field of grain on a Sabbath Day and some of the disciples took the opportunity to pull kernels of ripe grain from their stalks and snack away their hunger pangs. This was a clear violation of written policy!

I say “policy” because the entire point of the story (and that of many similar accounts of Jesus’ frequent altercations with Jewish religious leaders) is that through the Talmud and Mishnah the Scribes and Pharisees had conflated the rabbinic interpretation and elaboration of God’s laws with the Law itself. In so doing, the rabbinic interpretation often had the effect — as in this case — of negating the Law’s original purpose to the detriment of its intended beneficiaries. In other cases, the Mishnah was invoked by religious authorities as the basis for excusing themselves from parental care obligations or rebuking Jesus’ acts of healing on Sabbath days, and other similar violations.

Jesus was not amused. In fact, when you read the Gospels, you cannot escape the observation that Jesus deliberately perpetrated a pattern of provocation in order to make a single point.

The one who made the rule is the final arbiter and has the prerogative to waive it in favor of a higher principle.

Years ago, one of my student ministry teams had a favorite skit. Two of the group’s most talented and hammy guys enacted a scenario in which a couple of construction workers sat down for lunch day after day. Each day, with exaggerated enthusiasm, one worker would open his lunchbox to discover a veritable banquet: filet mignon, lobster, lasagna, you name it — all accompanied by some sort of sumptuous dessert. Every day, his companion would gush with gullible enthusiasm and salivating anticipation regarding what he would discover when he opened his lunchbox — only to be inconsolably crestfallen and perplexed when he discovered that his lunchbox contained yet once again … a single peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This scenario was re-enacted several times to increase the pathos of daily disappointment on behalf of “Mr. Peanut Butter and Jelly.” Finally, the worker whose lunch resembled a cornucopia every day said to his once-again chagrined and inconsolable co-worker: “Who prepares your lunch anyway?” Then came the punchline: “Well … I do.” All of a sudden, in delicious (ugh … no pun intended) irony, we realize that “Mr. Peanut Butter and Jelly” is a lot like us.

He has made himself a prisoner of his own “rules.”

Who Made the Rules ImageAnd the same effect, in my experience, is often the case with policies. Policies we (or our forebears) developed and imposed on ourselves and our colleagues for very good reasons become instruments that actually work to frustrate rather than fulfill our intentions. Policies are made to empower us, not to enslave us. When the interpretation and application of a rule defeats its purpose, the ones who made the rule are the final arbiters and have the prerogative to waive or remove it.

Policies are not policies if they are consistently flouted with whimsy. But neither are they “policies” when we cannot recognize that we who made the policies can and should waive or alter them when circumstances dictate.


The sabbath was made for man … and so are policies.


If you’ve missed any posts from my Leadership Lane-Assist series, you can find them in our 4ThoughtLeaders blog pages.  Or, if you’re just tuning in, you may want to start from the beginning of the series with my Leadership Lane-Assist introductory post.

Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …


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