New Leadership Heights: Regulation or Inspiration?

Red Tape

In times of transformation, leadership is asked to explore new territories because solutions are often not found in systems that created the problem.

It can mean letting go of the existing structures and rules to allow new inspiration to come through.

But can we let go and launch into new territories? And will we?

Two Stories of Choice

Absentee Logic

A Dutch organization was in need of help. For over a year and a half one of its departments had been battling with a disproportionately high absenteeism.

Senior management decided to come up with an ultimatum:

Either a three-day group session would ignite a significant change or all ten employees had to find new jobs.

And I was asked to facilitate the three days.

Day one immediately exposed the crux: the work pressure would be too high due to existing expectations. These expectations were caused by the organizational culture of rules and structures.

This was my cue to rattle the cage a bit:

What if everyone threw the current structures, frameworks, systems, job descriptions and logistics overboard?

It might pave the way for a new way of working together that could support the individual and collective needs and values.

The lid came off. My suggestions backfired. They wanted to know how could I suggest such a thing?

Rules were a necessity; people and organizations simply cannot function without. As a matter of fact, even stricter regulations were needed…

This was the same department that perceived to be a victim of the over-regulated, rigid organizational structure. These were the same people who felt like they had to fit a mold, that there was no room for their natural qualities to come to the surface. I just pulled the plug on it, I let the overflowing bath of rules and regulation be emptied. It was met with utter panic and pure resistance!

Absentee Opportunity 

A few weeks later I received a message from a colleague. An international leadership platform was asking for innovative articles from anyone working in the leadership field and my colleague thought that I should submit an article on Leadingship.

3000 words and quite a few hours later I tried to find out where to send it.

I was treated to a ‘submission guidelines document’ of no less than 3700 words i.e. 9 pages. When I worked my way through it and assumed that I had complied with every single rule, I hit ‘send’.

That same day I received a very short reply:

“Please resend it per procedure, Entry #1 Email submission … We may disregard received submission…” End of message!

As far as I could ascertain, after two hours of going through the guidelines again and again, I had forgotten to put my phone number and address in the email. It wasn’t sufficient to have them included at the top of my article. I double-checked my overall compliance and resubmitted my article the next day.

What came back was another impersonal message saying that they were “not interested in my submission… it ‘needed’ support from current literature; otherwise the reader may have some doubts…”

Oh the Irony…

The intention of my article was to question beliefs around traditional leadership. It was inviting the reader to explore the non-personal essence of inspiration rather than building on theoretical assumptions of personal influence.

Reference for it was not to be found in existing literature and rules, but in self-inquiry and out-of-the-box contemplation.

When I first read the editor’s online call for submissions, I was immediately inspired by what they were looking for:

“…new and unique leadership paradigms, as well as fresh leadership development programs, courses and curricula, need to be and have been created to meet such postmodern demands as increased flexibility and inclusion, the embrace and use of diversity, the need for creativity, the need to create and manage change, the achievement of social justice, and the need for leadership authenticity…”

Unfortunately it seemed that following the rules was more important than the unique paradigms, fresh programs, flexibility, inclusion, diversity, creativity and leadership authenticity that he was talking about.

Following the rules killed another possibility for new inspiration.

Absentee Clarity 

These two situations are certainly not stand alones. In my work with organizations I keep coming across a human dependency on rules, regulation, structures, job descriptions and responsibilities.

Allegedly they are in place to create clarity, to keep us safe and secure.

But the times that we live in have been bringing up global feelings of unclarity, unsafety and insecurity. No regulation has been able to prevent it. Still we keep referring to it as if it’s the main objective to the work we do and the life we live.

Especially these times have made us hungry for inspiration and innovation. But for that to happen, we first want check how viable existing rules still are. It requires letting go of what doesn’t serve us anymore, even when it means saying goodbye to the status, authority and power that are linked to it.

Umm, has my attachment to inspiration just created another rule?! 🙂


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here.
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Arnold Timmerman
Arnold Timmerman is Author and Founder of Truth Unmlimited
He provides “Leadingship” training & coaching throughout all organizational levels
Email | Web | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

Image Sources:

6 responses to “New Leadership Heights: Regulation or Inspiration?

  1. Good article. Could you comment on the practice of establishing policy, procedure or guidelines as they pertain to creating culture or assuring an ethical standard within an organization. I have been looking into the assertion of policy to set the bar for “ethics” more so than operational efficiency. Thanks,


    • Hi Robert, thanks for your response. Establishing ethics policies can be a wonderful exploration. I’m actually in the midst of it with a not-for-profit organisation. So far I’ve experienced how it opens the doors to a collective frame of reference. And because everyone is involved in the process, it becomes clear which employee-organisation relationship is still valuable and which one is past its sell-by date.
      As long as the policy is a reflection of the organisation’s natural traits and qualities & vice versa, it’s great to keep referring and relating to it. Once the policy becomes a ‘beating stick’ or a source of internal uproar, it’s time to let go of it and start with a clean slate – rather than ‘reviewing’ the current policy! Elements of the old policy that are still in line with where the organisation is at, will automatically bounce back into the new policy. The ones that no longer reflect the organisation’s current state of being will not even show up in the creation of the new policy.
      Once again it requires everyone to let go of any attachments to linked authority, status and power.


  2. Thank You for your examples. I think they are on the money right.

    I think there are many solutions (you do not say there isn’t) and the most overlooked solution lies in the fact that we need to create another organizational format than the current huge companies.
    I think there is no way one person or one philosophy can handle more than a handful people. Therefore we have a conflict:
    1. We need policies because otherwise we cannot get our message through.
    2. Policies are like all other rules. They have one thing in common for the subjects, who thinks – to find a way around them.

    Henry Ford needed to have large factories as he employed farm-workers to build sophisticated machines.
    Today we can sit a Starbucks and participate in the process totally independent and able to keep several balls in the air simultaneously (although not multitasking:).

    We need a better organizational structure and we have the technology. Why are we not changing. Fear of change (my guess).

    I can hear protests about economic reality so let me say that there are tools for that too. It is called delegation. Delegation can be further refined (another long article for another day.)

    I do agree that it has similarities to TulipRose easy to say but hard to do, but with an open mind, willingness to change and interest in bringing the western world up to state of the art, it is doable. Even more important it would increase effectiveness with a factor of two to ten. A better idea than bringing manufacturing jobs back from china, India etc., which is pure nostalgia.
    Once again, great article…


  3. Great article, and you hit the mark…rules and regulations (i.e. hopefully through a A-1 Human Resources Department) are necessary but a company has to reach beyond. Most employees honestly value their work and strive to do good work, but employees also need to feel valued by the employer/company. It’s that simple. A company’s success is it’s employees…like your article said, in today’s uncertain economy, a company owes it to its own success and the success of each employee to figure out a way to consistently show them they are valued (and show in a way not only monetarily, but other perks).


  4. Great post, Arnold! I think you hit on two major paralizers of organization – change & rules. Change goes against a person’s sense of security. People tend to feel vulnerable and insecure when going through change. Organizations with these high-pressure rules & regulations tend to be the ones who are terrified of change. Rules by their very nature prevent change from occurring. To break through these paradigms is difficult work, but it brings freedom and agility.


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s