These are not rules to live by; they are rules to enjoy living by.
I developed a particular passion during 22 years of service in uniform. That passion was how leaders work - what they did, and more importantly, why they did it. In 1998, I began to articulate some guidelines that I had learned over time, both in and out of uniform, about how people (who are responsible for the work of others) should conduct themselves as leaders. The important consideration here is; "It is not important what we do, rather it is why."
These guidelines grew into what I now call "Ned's Rules of Engagement." The quirky title comes from two separate concepts. First, people who are responsible for the work of others need to live by a code of conduct in order to ensure success in their own work - being responsible for the work of others. This is an "engagement" to live by a code of the type given below - just like any other promise made to oneself. The other connotation of the title phrase comes right out of its military meaning and can be applied in the same context. That context is a set of allowable actions leaders may take when faced with a pre-defined set of circumstances - or, "if circumstance A occurs then I am allowed to take action B." So, the second implication is that these rules help focus a leader's vision on the best set of responses they may use to react to developing circumstances.
"Ned's Rules of Engagement" are about what we do as leaders and which set of circumstances would normally trigger each one of the rules. In the end, they are not really my rules. Others really did all the work in developing them and I cannot claim credit for the wisdom they provide me. All I did was catalogue them into my own list.
Based on this approach ("what" is less important than "why"), I have attempted to articulate the reason behind the most desired approach for each circumstance. The best reasons we can have for doing anything affecting our team are those most clearly understood by our team members and most acceptable to them. When we are responsible for the work of others, therefore, the best "reasons" we can have for our actions are based on a principle or a set of principles. Leaders who are remembered not only for their successes (because simple success is not enough) but also for their positive contributions to their group, are those that followed this very approach.
Today these rules are posted on my door at work. If I breach any one of them, my colleagues have the right, and are encouraged to exercise the duty, to call me on the breach. They are automatically in the right.
The rules are not so tough to follow and I really enjoy the simplicity they can provide when faced with complex circumstances that may include conflicting requirements. They are how I measure my own performance - and sometimes how I measure the performance of others (who are responsible for the work of others). My colleagues are exempt from this examination because very few of them have had the opportunity to experience the types of situations where understanding these is critical to survival.
Some of my bosses, however, have not been so lucky - especially those who have had access to the same type of common sense training that I enjoyed. There have been occasions when I have demanded adherence to one aspect or another of these rules from those for whom I worked. In fact, one of the reasons that I really enjoyed some of my appointments was that my boss was able to quote these to me. Which brings me to my last consideration.
These rules are not copyrighted. If I was to define the single greatest reward from having spent the time to write them (actually re-write them into one list), then that reward would be defined as knowing that more leaders and managers use them. It would make life so much easier for me in a number of different ways, not the least of which would be an ability to get more done within the common constraints of time and other resources. I have occassionally had the advantage of working for someone who understands and applies them but many people work in organisations where leadership authority is exercised by those who do not or will not. Conversely, application of these rules by leaders, whether or not they have managerial authority, can remove 95% of all job-related dissatisfaction experienced by their team members.
If anyone needs to know what implementation of these rules can accomplish, here it is:
Good leaders can motivate dispirited teams of people to achieve difficult objectives under impossible circumstances.
And this is the most that any organisation can ask of its leaders - at any level.
J.E.J. (Ned) Gravel, CD, PEng, CAE, CA-LS, IPL