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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #61: Moving From Rules & Regulations To Standards & Expectations

November 7, 2019
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #61: Moving From Rules & Regulations To Standards & Expectations

Do you know the difference between “rules and regulations” and “standards and expectations”? Do you know which you promote in your leadership? In Episode #61 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, Chris and Perry examine the key differences between rules and standards and regulations and expectations, and how making the switch will boost your organization’s satisfaction, independence, and overall excellence.

To cultivate leadership development on your team, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.

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Read Transcript Below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach, and I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. As a reminder, if you would like to learn more about the 5 Levels of Leadership or perhaps bring one of us in for a 5 Levels private workshop for your organization, we would love to do that! Please go to, and you can leave a comment or a question for Perry and me on that site. We would love to hear from you.

For those that have been listening for a while, we something new for you today! I’d like to introduce to you a new feature of the Executive Leadership Podcast: PDF Podcast Learning Guides. From now on, you can access a PDF Learning Guide for each of our podcast episodes. The Learning Guides will lay out an overview of the episode as well as key learning points discussed in the episode. There will also be space for notes if you’d like to print out the guide and make your own notes for yourself or to share with colleagues. Here is the link for the Episode #61 Learning Guide. You can also go to and download it there.

Let’s dive into today’s topic. We’ve gotten a lot of comments about this. Today’s topic is titled “Moving From Rules and Regulations to Standards and Expectations.” I really like this topic. I was recently working with a business coaching client, and he said, “I’m having trouble at home. My teenagers just won’t follow my house rules.” He has the same problem that we’re going to talk about today. John once said this in a talk: “You’ve got to move from ‘rules and regulations’ to ‘standards and expectations.'” If you set a bunch of rules and regulations, people tend to fight against that. But if you have standards, if you set the standard in your home and in your business and have high expectations, I’m finding that people most likely move in that direction. They want to live up to expectations. You set the bar. As leaders, we need to see further than they see. We should communicate that we believe in them more than they believe in themselves. If we set the right standards and expectations, they’ll live up to that.

Rules and regulations almost give people the right to give excuses. It’s almost counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish. Standards and expectations allow your workers to strive to grow and reach their potential. Let’s sort of break down what we mean by “standards” and “expectations.” Standards are what’s accepted as the norm around the workplace, around the home, whatever it might be. Expectations are where strong beliefs comes in.

I like how you broke that down, and I’m looking forward to unpacking it. Let’s start with a little word, or sentence, association. If I said, “Rules and regulations require minimum personal commitment for followers. They set the bar low,” what would you say? I would say, “Standards and expectations open up a wealth of possibilities that allow followers to exceed their own personal expectations.” If I said, “Rules and regulations cause one to think about what they can get away with.” I would say, “Standards and expectations cause me to think about what’s possible.” What if I said, that “Rules and regulations cause me to think about what not to do.” I would say, “Standards and expectations cause me to think what to do and then how to do it.” Very good. You’re good at this. Finally, if I said, “Rules and regulations make me feel like you don’t trust me.” I’d say, “Standards and expectations are in place because I do trust you.” Fantastic! Thanks for playing along.

When I look at this, I thought the question really becomes, “As a leader, how do I set standards and communicate high expectations?” One thing I’ve learned as a leader and as a parent is that if you don’t have a high standard for your own performance, it’s going to be really difficult to expect a high standard of performance from others in your circle of influence, be it your family, your team, your staff, or your friends. It’s really gonna be hard to set a standard for them. John used this sports analogy to explain it: “Leadership is a visual sport. Understand that you need to be watching your people, and your people are going to be watching you.” I think that aligns with what we’re saying here. As a leader, you need to have your own philosophy on how you do things and how you are trying to exceed expectations. Your level of commitment to high standards on a day-to-day will determine how your team performs. They are going to follow you. Oftentimes, it’s not really what you’re telling them; it’s what you’re showing them. Rules are about telling, but standards are about showing. That might scare some of you. Sometimes it scares me, but you really need to be aware of this.

When I’m leading a team, there are some standards that I personally lean toward. One is a clear understanding of my roles and responsibilities. Another important standard to uphold is how your team communicates with each other. Don’t allow a disrespectful community. We have a standard for communication, especially with our clients. Other important standards are how we embrace accountability, how we measure success, and how we make sure we’re all aiming for the same thing, how we handle mistakes, and how we help each other. Those five are very important.

I’ll just add three more. Number one for me is a personal value. We do a value card exercise in our 5 Levels of Leadership training, and the first value I always choose is teamwork. I’ve got to have collaboration, I’ve got to have people working together as a team. The next standard or expectation that I want to mention is essential to teamwork: respect. You’ve got to have respect for one another. I want us to have different perspectives. I want us to challenge each other with new ideas. Number three is ownership. I want people on my team that want to take the ball. I don’t want to have to hand them the ball and then have to tell them what to do every step of the way. I’m a former offensive line, so I don’t move very fast. I need people that can move the ball faster than me. For me, these three, teamwork, respect, and ownership, come to mind when I think of personal standards.


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I’m thinking about what you said about respect. I was just working with a consultant who asked the audience right before I came on, “How many of you and your organizations suffer from your people having too much respect?” No one raised their hand. He said, “Wait a minute. There’s no such thing.” Yes. And I thought when you added that as a one of your standards, I love that. So I’ll add that to mind. As we start wrapping this up, I would like to talk for a minute on expectations. We’ve been talking a lot about standards, but what about expectations?

How do you communicate expectations to your team? I try to do it through feedback and coaching. Feedback for me is all about stories. We hear a lot about leaders being able to communicate stories effectively. The more stories we can bring in, in regards to feedback, attributes to the greater vision and the goal of the company. That allows me to connect with my team and communicate at a different level.

When it comes to coaching, I use something we’ve talked about here before, and that’s the intention versus perception gap, or the IP gap. I’ll say to a member of my team, “Hey, I know this wasn’t your intention right here. Let me give you a perspective of the team. Let me give you my perspective.” As a leader, it’s your responsibility to close the IP gap. So, you’ve gotta have those conversations.

Letting people know how they’re living up to your expectations is key for your team’s growth. I also lean on promoting and teaching personal responsibility and accountability. I once got a question from the audience asking me to explain the difference between responsibility and accountability. I thought that was a pretty good question. I think for me, the main difference is that responsibility can be shared, while accountability cannot. So we can all be responsible for something, but I am accountable for it.  I want my whole team to show high levels of accountability.

As we wrap up, I wrote down a couple of takeaway thoughts for our listeners. First of all, we all know rules are necessary in games, right? But they’re extremely counterproductive in relationships. Remember that we have to have rules in some things, but when it comes to connecting and relating to our people, rules are counterproductive. Relationships improve as the rules are reduced.

Think about how you felt when you were a child and, as you grew up, you had less and less rules to follow. Your relationship with your parents improved. We could probably spend some time unpacking why that happens. I’m going through that change right now myself with my kids. Know that rules foster obedience rather than responsibility.

Finally, rules promote the leader to perform the role of cop versus coach. How many leaders have you worked for in the past that were more of a cop than a coach? How did you feel about that? It’s just a world of difference between those two types of leaders.

As always, just a reminder for our listeners: if you would like to know more about this topic or the 5 Levels of Leadership, perhaps even bring a 5 Levels workshop to your location, you can find more information at You’re welcome to leave a question for us there if you have one. We always love hearing from you, and we really appreciate you joining us on this journey. This has been the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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