The Twelve Principles of Leadership: Principle Eight

During a twelve-day period of time, I will be posting daily one of the Twelve Principles of Quality Leadership followed by some questions you, as a leader, may wish to ask yourself.

Hopefully the description and inquiry will cause you to think about how you lead and what you may need to do to improve your leadership.

 And don’t forget to post some commentary. It can be a learning process for us all.

Welcome aboard!


Systems, Leadership, and Teams




This is a fundamental principle regarding people.  It should help us to look at how we view our employees.  Do we believe that they can be trusted, are mature adults and want to do a good job  Or do we believe that they are untrustworthy, immature, and want to avoid work  This principle causes some supervisors and managers a great deal of difficulty.  They have trouble accepting the notion that they should trust their employees.  Let’s look at how many of your employees are in the first group and how many are in the second. We believe 95% of our employees fall into the first group and 5% or less fall into the second group.  For too long, the actions of the 5% have dictated the rules and policies and how the organization is run.  We believe that the actions of the 5% should not dictate how the rest of the employees are treated in the workplace. Five-percenters should be responded to in a prompt and fair way.  Rules should not be written based on the behavior of the five percent nor should the department be run as if all employees were in the five percent group.  The five percent must, however, be dealt with and not ignored.  We have all heard a great deal about the need for consistency and fairness in the disciplinary process.  Being fair is more important.


a. What rules or policies do we have that should be modified, changed, or even eliminated according to the 95/5 rule?  How could they become more positive?

b. Is there a need for a policy manual in an organization run on the 95/5 rule?  What would be the function of the policy manual in a quality organization?

c. How would you attempt to improve the performance an employee of yours who is in the five percenter?

[From The New Quality Leadership Workbook, by Couper and Lobitz. To be published this year.]


  1. Very interesting series of posts. I would be interested in your opinion on the need for a policy manual in a progressive police department. While I can see where not having a policy manual may promote creative problem solving, I fear that it would be hard to discipline behavior in the 5% without it. Would the benefit of not having a policy manual be worth the risk and liability? I look forward to reading any responses.


    1. Good question. I was an early leader for the development (and public access) to our policy manual. The five percent needs to be dealt with promptly and fairly — but rather than change the policy (or work rules) because of a few, we were able to negotiate with the union the idea of specific work rules for those who had problems. An example: if you need to take a sick day you only have to call the unit secretary and check in. If you have had a problem with sick day use, you will be required to talk directly with you supervisor and may not leave a message to the unit secretary. Our thinking was why make the taking of a sick day difficult for everyone because a few or someone was abusing them?


  2. I can’t agree more. People are inherently good, and even the 5% can be dissuaded from bad to good with proper systems and targeted leadership. Everyone want to succeed, and if challenged will do what is right and good.


    1. I always wanted to select leaders who thought that people (including their employees) were basically good — not evil. Unfortunately, the same attitude some police officers might have formulated early in their career carries through their careers (and into their home and relational life as well); that is, that people are basically evil. I prefer to start with expecting folks to be decent, but still tactically aware! Thanks for the commentary!


  3. The trouble is you have the 5% who somehow, someway, get to occupy the key supervisory positions which means that you are never going to solve the problem. Managers in America tend to circle the wagon and protect their own even though they should be getting rid of bad managers (they are like their own de facto union). However, having managers taking action against other managers is still a cultural taboo in this country plus being a too radical hot item for management. In addition, there are too many supervisors who will not take the time, effort, and resources to get rid of the 5%. and/or are buddy buddies with the 5%.


    1. True. Sometimes the 5 percenters inhabit the ranks of top leadership! And that’s a big problem (and one that I inherited upon taking over the reigns of the Madison PD in the early 70s. In my case, it was not 5 percent but more like 50 percent!). But visionary leaders can overcome even these barriers with a bold vision, high levels of communication, persistence, and, yes, a certain kind of passionate tenacity!


      1. I agreed with you that it can be 50% or more. I encounter a situation where the entire management from the highest manager to the lowest supervisor were bad leaders at my work place and that they were all and/or minorities and women which is disgusting considering how many minorities and women were complaining about the lack of promotional opportunities, complaining about the bad behavior of white male managers and having no history how many women and minorities in the past have sacrifice their lives to make a place better for future generations of women and minorities.


  4. “always wanted to select leaders who thought that people (including their employees) were basically good — not evil. ”

    You have a cultural norm where managers thinks all unions are evil, corrupt, and run by organized crime. In additions, these managers thinks that unions are useless even though many of them benefitted from a union and they work vigorously to undermine the unions when they were rank and file members. Futhermore, managers have this attituded for nearly 240 years that the workforce can be easily replaced and that anyone can do anyone else’s job except those of the managers.


      1. Agreed it is dangerous leadership thinking; however, it is a dangerous cultural, social, political, economic and management thinking as well.


      2. There are better ways; however, no bad, incompetent present manager or future potential manager will never, ever offer better ways because they like the way the system is and would undercut their ability to rule by fear and intimidation and would do everything they can to sabotage such alternatives…


  5. Mr gray’s question is great. I also like your response. You may also want to have a look at an article in the January and February 2014 Harvard Business Review titled How Netflix Reinvented HR: Trust People, Not Policies. Reward candor. And Throw Away the Standard Playbook, by Patthy McCord. The article tries well to answer the question holistically.



    1. Thanks for the suggestion. It’s important that we know what is right and that the leadership we talk about on this site is effective and generates the creativity and innovation that will propel us forward as a nation.


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