Understanding Unwritten Rules Is Key to Effective Leadership

Until you understand the unwritten rules, your efforts to enact change will likely fail.

The unwritten rules—are the real rules.

In an organization, what is passed down, maintained over the years, repeated the most, becomes tradition. This is the way people do things, the way decisions are made, the way people respond to leadership and potential.

This is what is real.

This is the DNA of the organization.

People may not even realize they are what they are. They may have never been written down, voted on or “put in the minutes”, but they are assumed true by the majority of people.

They are considered law. These are the rules people will defend and protect the most. They’ll fight to keep them from being changed or bended.

If you are a new leader or a veteran, understanding this principle will increase your effectiveness. When we entered an established church I realized quickly there were some things I didn’t need to attempt to change the first couple years—or if we did these unwritten rules would alter how we approached, introduced or implemented change. There were ingrained cultural understandings I needed to know.

How do you know the unwritten rules?

First, be aware they exist in every organization. They are real.

Second, ask good questions of people who have been there longer than you. Learn people you can trust to be honest with you—and ask lots of questions about the organization, how things are done, and unpack with them some of the decisions you are considering.

Third, you’ll discover them mostly as you approach any kind of change which goes against one of them—by experience. (Which is why you don’t institute change in a vacuum. You collaborate with others.)

Trust me in this. You may be a genius with creating new and exciting ideas, but first you must understand this principle.

Learn the unwritten rules first.

None of this means you can’t change or go against the unwritten rules, but if you don’t understand them you’ll waste a lot of good energy. And often you will be left wondering why your ideas never got traction.

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This article originally appeared on RonEdmondson.com.