When to Break the Rules

My wife has gotten me hooked on a fairly new TV show called “New Amsterdam”. It is one of those predictable hospital television shows, where there is an emergency issue in the ER and all the protocols require one thing but what is really needed is something different all together. Often the hospital administrator is torn between following the rules and doing the right thing for the patients. As you can imagine, doing the right thing often puts him in front of the hospital’s board that governs the systems and rules, but are out of touch with the mission of the hospital; to serve and help the patients. In one episode, the hospital administrator tells the board, that he did what was best for the “souls” in the ER. He obviously views the people differently than most.

This has caused me to think about the church and leadership. At what point do we allow leaders to break the rules in order to do the right thing? I think it hinges on one thing trust. We don’t just trust people to obey the rules, we also trust that they know when to break them. Rules are there for normal operations. Rules are designed to avoid danger and help ensure things go smoothly; and they are the guidelines for how to deal with emergencies, at the end of the day, we trust the expertise of a special few people to know when to break the rules.

The responsibility of leaders is to teach people the rules, train them to gain competency and build their confidence. At that point, leadership must step back and trust that their people know what they are doing and will do what needs to be done. In weak organizations, without oversight, too many people will break the rules for personal gain. That’s what makes the organization weak. In strong organizations, people will break the rules because it is the right thing to do for others. When the people feel that they have the control to do what’s right, even if it sometimes means breaking the rules then they will be more likely to do the right thing. Courage comes from above. Our confidence to do what is right is determined by how trusted we feel by our leaders.

If good people are asked to work in a bad culture, one in which leaders do not relinquish control, then the odds of something bad happening go up. People will be more concerned about following the rules out of fear of getting in trouble or losing their jobs than doing what needs to be done. And when that happens, souls will be lost.