Good Leaders don’t make Feel-Good Rules

[June 5, 2018]  If there is one thing that I learned from my first U.S. Army commander, it was that it is a bad idea to make feel-good rules for your soldiers.  Feel-good rules are formalized but unnecessary rules of behavior.

Feel-good rules are usually put in place by well-meaning leaders and managers who want to play it safe; usually when it comes to the goal of having everyone get along with one another.  Any of these can be in the form of a policy, regulation, or law; anything that attempts to control the behavior someone doesn’t like.  Sound familiar?  Yes, it sounds like my mother.

When rules of this nature are generated, it is usually because we don’t trust others to do the right thing.  It shows that respect is lacking, discipline needs improving, and morale is poor.  I firmly believe in teaching, coaching, and mentoring soldiers to do the right thing and I spell it out through my deeds and actions.

My first commander was not the best person for the job.  He was a poor leader but I learned more of what not to do from him than from anyone else.  When I was transferred to his Infantry Company and reported in, the first thing he said was, “there are rules around here and I expect you to obey them.”  “Yes, sir’” was out of my mouth so fast it even surprised me.

What I didn’t expect was a typed list of 25 Company B rules.  The first rule, and I was to never forget it, was that I was allowed only one coffee mug in the break room.  The second rule was to never ask the commander a question during his briefings.  What?  I thought these were pretty lame ideas and said so later.  For my insolence on those and many other rules, I was considered a troublemaker.

An interesting piece of irony is that years later I would become the company commander of that same unit.  When I arrived the feel-good rules were still in place.  My first order was to terminate them.

The unit improved under my command.  It went from the dead last in the maintenance of heavy equipment and in Field Training Exercises to the top five out of 26.  We also lost no equipment and had no AWOL soldiers.  Morale and discipline had improved dramatically.  And while I don’t attribute the improvement to getting rid of those feel-good rules, it certainly went a long way in making it happen.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

37 thoughts on “Good Leaders don’t make Feel-Good Rules

  1. Scotty Bush

    Gen Satterfield, I recommend you do an article on the habits of small minded leaders. It has to be one of the funniest you will do this year.

  2. Len Jakosky

    I agree with Wilson that more educational topics are under consideration for good leadership to flourish. The irritation from small-minded leaders who make BS rules (rhymes with Hull Hit) is something that must be ignored in the short term to make it in the long term.

  3. Wilson Cox

    In the whole scheme of leadership do’s and don’ts, this issue doesn’t rank very high – in my opinion. That said, however, it is extraordinarily irritating (as you can see some of the comments on this page) and does show a lack of respect and consideration. I would offer the argument that once a person becomes a senior leader they have learned a valuable lesson; don’t mess with the small stuff.

  4. Lynn Pitts

    For anyone who has spent time in the military, we all have seen this much too often. Fortunately, I see that many of those small-minded leaders are weeded out the further up the rank structure they advance. By the time you find them at Gen Satterfield’s level they are gone (thank goodness).

    1. Watson Bell

      I trust you are correct again, Lynn!

    2. Tomas C. Clooney

      I do believe you are once again, spot on with your observations! 😉

  5. Eric Coda

    I love the article today on something that always annoyed me. Hah!

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Yep, I think we all have something to say about this topic! It is something that makes my skin crawl when a boss up stuff just so we recognize him as the boss.

  6. Mark Evans

    If I had to pick a pet peeve of mine, this would be it. I have had too many so-called leaders who run the spectrum from poor to great. None of the great ones created rules; only the poor ones. And I measure great versus poor leaders by their achievements.

  7. Gil Johnson

    I always wondered why managers were so keen on creating detailed rules that didn’t really matter that much. I was too immature to really get it. Now I do understand. They are just poor leaders acting out their small thinking habits.

    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Gil. You are like many of us growing up where we had to find out about things through personal experience. Today, we have other methods like coaches, mentors, and good teachers.

    2. Albert Ayer

      To get ahead in the world today, having a good mentor is a must. Anything else and it is too difficult to compete.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      Gracias. Thank you for these links.

  8. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Another lesson that I try to teach to my students and athletes. That is why I don’t make any rules but enforce those imposed by the school. There is a serious life lesson to be learned by young people.

  9. Joey Holmes

    I only thought parents made stupid rules. Cheers!

    1. Kenny Foster

      You crack me up, Joey. Thanks for making me spit my coffee through my nose.

  10. Drew Dill

    Once again, another great post on a subject that irritates people to no good end. I would hope these so-called leaders take a moment to reflect on their counter-productive behavior.

  11. Anita

    My current boss is exactly like what you describe here. It should be no surprise that when I post of these blog sites that I don’t use my last name and for that exact reason. But he probably doesn’t read much about leadership anyway.

  12. Dale Paul Fox

    I think you have a popular topic here today. The idea that weak leaders are prone to create “feel good” rules is something that we’ve all experienced and have been irritated by. Many leaders are not that good at what they do but there is one thing they can do to show respect and trust in their employees and that is don’t make stupid, unnecessary rules!

  13. Janna Faulkner

    Loved your article today. Thank you. 😉

  14. Greg Heyman

    A common phenomenon of weak leadership is rulemaking in all its “glory.” I’ve seen it repeatedly. Those who are less effective at their leadership roles are more likely to generate rules (small-time stuff) for everyone to follow. I like today’s article and thanks Brig Gen Satterfield.

  15. Army Captain

    The bottom line here is that the kind of feel-good rules discussed is made by those who DO NOT TRUST their people. The more leaders are involved in rule-making, the less trust there is.

  16. Martin Shiell

    Wow, you sure hit on a sore spot for me and many others here, Gen Satterfield. Well done! How about let’s put the spotlight on these leaders and managers who create stupid rules (for whatever reason).

  17. Max Foster

    This is one pet peeve of mine! Most of those “leaders” are power hungry at some psychological level or they are just stupid about people.

    1. Gil Johnson

      Good comment. Just like most of us.

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