If you have to live by the rules… (A Life and Leadership Principle)

Write better rules.

That principle came to me in a personal illustration.

Cheryl and I love to travel, and we have done a lot of it together. Several years ago we realized that we were getting close to visiting all 50 states. Friends of ours had that as a goal of theirs, so we adopted it. Our overall goal was simple – visit all 50 states together. Since then we’ve planned many of our vacations around trying to get to all 50 states. At the time of this postering we are only missing 4 states – Alaska, Wyoming, Nevada and Oregon. (Some of them we’ve been through, but not following “our” rules.)

Cheryl needs a plan, so we needed some criteria in her mind for the visits. We developed the “rules” for a state to be considered “visited”. There were only two rules:

  • We had to be in the state together.
  • We had to spend the night in the state.

Pretty simple, right?

The only problem is we do lots of traveling and most of it is to places we have already been. It will require intentionality to check off the last few. (I’m praying some church in Alaska – or any of the other 3 states – will need me to fill in some Sunday or lead a retreat for them soon. 🙂 )

A few years ago, we were on vacation attempting to cover another state. Our plan would allow us to mark four states off our list on this trip. As we started planning, however, we realized we could mark five states off our list, if only we didn’t have to “spend the night there”. Our own rule got in the way. As anxious as we are to mark off all 50 states, especially since we are so close, we still had a rule to follow.

Then the thought occurred to me. They were our rules. We could change them if we want to. We could say we had to eat a meal there. Or we could say we had to spend 6 hours there.

But, the point I’m making:

We could change the rules and still not alter our original goal – to visit together all 50 states.

It was a huge relief. Cheryl agreed for a short time.

But then she couldn’t bring herself to change the rules. Thankfully, as it turned out, we were able to spend the night in that state anyway, but I still contend we could change the rules if we wanted to. They are OUR rules. (Now if someone could please convince my rule-following wife of that.)

I know that’s a silly example, but it illustrates a much bigger problem we face in many churches and organizations. There’s a leadership principle here.

Sometimes we confuse our rules for our goals.

Rules aren’t goals. Goals aren’t rules.

Rules are meant to help us attain goals, not keep us from them. We need rules. They guide our way to progress.

As much as rules are a part of the process…

Why live by rules that keep us from accomplishing our goals?

I have seen this so many times in leading people. Often we limit ourselves to doing things strictly according to rules we have set for ourselves – or others have set for us, but they actually hinder progress. The rules no longer match what we now want to accomplish – they don’t enable us – they are actually hindering progress.

In those times, we may not need to change our end goal. And we don’t need to lower our standards.

Many times we really just need to write better rules.

I’m still trying to convince my wife this with our last 4 states. (Pray for me.) But for the organizations we lead – let’s not let the rules become a burden in accomplishing our goals.

Be honest – What’s a rule that’s currently getting in the way of progress?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • James says:

    Such a great yet interesting post. Thank you very much for sharing this helpful stuff.

  • […] Write better rules… Written by: Ron Edmondson […]

  • @aaronlage says:

    I totally get what you're saying and I agree with you because I can see how this can bring freedom to people who are very rigid about things. It's kind of like God's laws – it's meant to bring you closer to Him. Not keep you away!

    However, what might you say to people who seem to constantly bend the rules as a way of life to make achievement easier? For instance public schools who seem to repeatedly lower the standards in order to meet certain "goals" possible?

    • ronedmondson says:

      I'd say they aren't bending the rules, they are lowering the goals. It's starts with the goals. In the example you mentioned, they need to maintain the high standards, then write “better rules” to achieve the high standards. In organizational leadership I say, “get better so you can get bigger”. The key to making this post work is that the goal isn't lowered.Thanks. Great question.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  • Pat says:

    'Course this would involve redefining what a rule is. For some, it's an inflexible thing, thus they cannot be changed. For others, they can only be changed subjectively by the rule-creator and NO ONE ELSE. Kinda like the Pharisees.

  • Joshua Burke says:

    Rules that get in the way… I can be/do/have (X) when I become/achieve/obtain (Y). I find myself stumbling on this rule in both directions. For myself, I find that I sometimes limit my vision based on my own assessment of my current abilities. While I feel that a certain amount of this is rational, other times I limit myself to a path of my own choosing. And sometimes that path has nothing to do with any prerequisites to achievements.

    These things challenge me to look up, look out and dream bigger. To "lean up" my personal processes and ideas about me so that I'm not hindering myself.

    The other end, is simply this, when I'm being forced into a track or process that doesn't apply because I'm personally past it. Just because I'm past the process doesn't mean that the person I'm talking to is. In many cases others will cherish a process, sometimes to a fault.

    When I was building my radio program "Your Hope Today" I ran into this constantly. The issues got resolved fairly quickly but still, the processes were hindering my progress and I was not in control of them. Now the program is heard around the world in 120 countries every week via shortwave and is building a presence in the US markets.

    The radio show demonstrates both ends of the "rules" issue quite well. Both in my personal thinking about being on the radio and then, when I had grown past those limitations to have them re-imposed by the industry was difficult to manage. In the end, the rules got in the way but the process was worthwhile.

  • lightandsalvation says:

    I really like your post. It is a great reminder. I think often times we are so set to follow the rules that we forget that we can change them, adapt them, or even scrap. A common saying we used to say in the military when we reached a stumbling block was, "improvise, adapt and overcome." When we reach a stumbling block that is self imposed, we need to take a step back and figure out a way to overcome it. This post explains this concept to the tee!

  • Love this post, Ron.

    Several times I've promoted people up through two layers of management. The person has the skills, attitude and ability to make the jump. But they often have an internal "rule" and feel like they need to go back and do something in order to truly make that jump. So they have a goal to move up in the organization, but they have created a rule that is getting in the way. It's self-made. Your post explains it well.

  • @wisemanb says:

    I'd like to hear your comments from the same spirit but dealing with God's rules.

  • Great post Ron – By nature, rules seem inconvenient to me. So I appreciate a post for mavericks. 😉
    Twitter: Michaelenichols

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