I’m always thinking about things related to leadership in general and church leadership specifically. My wife Susan often shared the line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Keep thinking Butch, that’s what you’re good at.”

So, lately I’ve been thinking about top down and bottom up leadership. I’ve been thinking about groups, churches and organizations being led by policies or by principles. My experience has led me to believe that we create far too many narrow policies to guide us in our decision making, rather than using broad-based principles to accomplish the same thing.

Every time a situation occurs, you don’t want to set yet another policy on how to handle it. I think that “Robert’s Rules of order” has way too many rules. With too many policies in place to guide what people do. They stop thinking and being creative and just look for rules to guide them and imagination and initiative go out the window.

A good example of a key principle would be to treat people with respect, kindness and dignity and then let your people determine what that looks like in practice as opposed to having a rule for every situation spelling out exactly what needs to be done. Hopefully you have people you trust making decisions. Good principles are better than lots of rules and policies.

I believe it’s the Ritz Carlton that has a few simple principles that guide the employees while letting them make most of the decisions with their guests rather than having a “Rule Book” full of specific policies for every possible scenario.

The more you trust people the fewer the policies and rules you need, the less you trust people, the more policies and rules you want. Bring on good capable people and then get out of their way and let them decide; put the rulebook in mothballs.

     Use Principles instead of Policies to empower and motivate

Another possible word for principles would be values such as:

  • Excellence
  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Enthusiasm
  • Creativity
  • Individual initiative
  • Having fun in your work

I guess I would like to have the freedom to be led by my heart, imagination and creativity rather than looking at a rule book or policy manual to decide what to do in a given situation or having someone say to me, “Sorry that’s against our policy.”


This is especially true when that policy is possibly overly rigid and out of date. Most people we work with are smarter than we give them credit for and we would be pleasantly surprised on how things would go if we let them be led by principles (values) rather than policies (rules). Try it; you may like it Sam I am!